When Tooele County voters elect county officers this fall, they will vote for a clerk/auditor and a recorder/surveyor.
The county commissioners voted 2-1 to merge the four offices into two following an hour-long public hearing Tuesday night.
Commissioner Jerry Hurst was the lone commissioner to oppose the consolidation plan.
“I made the motion to hold this hearing because I wanted to hear the public,” he said. “We’ve heard from the public and the public is opposed to this consolidation, so I am opposed to consolidation.”
The consolidation will save an estimated $190,000 per year, however that amount is uncertain, according to the commissioners’ consolidation plan.
The public hearing started with two members of the county’s new budget advisory committee speaking in favor of consolidation. That committee was created last fall by the commissioners to provide budgetary oversight.
“When revenues dry up, you have to make hard decisions,” said Dean Johnson, a Grantsville resident and area president and branch manager for Zions Bank. “This decision is hard, but right. It makes good business sense.”
Toby Lee, a Tooele resident who is a senior financial specialist for Fidelity Investments and a former accounting manager for Anderson Lumber Company, also backed the consolidation.
“I support the consolidation of offices because it is based on solid factual research,” he said. “This decision to save taxpayer funds and streamline our county government is fiscally responsible and a sound business policy.”
But some speakers at the hearing questioned the estimated cost savings.
“You are going to combine these offices and require the same work with two less people,” said Rachel Hester, a financial analyst with the University of Utah who lives in Tooele. “The work isn’t going to get done according to the quality required by state statute and then you will have to hire somebody. You will be no better off than you are right now.”
Former Grantsville City Recorder Rachel Wright also spoke against the consolidation.
“I have personally worked with your clerk, recorder and surveyor’s office,” she said. “I am concerned that you are cutting too much. I am worried about quality if you combine the offices.”
The public hearing also became personal at times.
Sherry Kroff, a retired county employee, asked Commissioner Shawn Milne, “Is this just another notch on your belt for you to move up, or are you really going to do something for the county? I want you to think about it and search in your heart, and ask ‘Am I really doing what I should for the county.’”
“That’s an easy answer,” Milne immediately replied. “My answer is unequivocally ‘yes.’”
At the conclusion of the public hearing, Milne read a statement that he said he finished prior to the meeting. It explained his vote for the consolidation.
“Although we have made huge strides to course correct,” he said, “we must continue our efforts to control costs of all kinds and reassess the way we have structured our revenue streams. As part of these ongoing efforts, we persist in our search for efficient use of taxpayer funds.”
Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg made the motion to approve the consolidation.
“This is part of our efforts to keep taxes low and keep government small,” he said.
The approved consolidation eliminates the separate positions of county clerk, county auditor, county recorder, and county surveyor and creates the offices of clerk/auditor and recorder/surveyor.
The two new offices will take effect in January 2015. The election for both offices will occur this fall. The current clerk, auditor, recorder and surveyor positions will continue until January 2015.
During the filing period for county offices, which is from March 14-20, individuals will file for one of the combined offices.
Current Tooele County Clerk Marilyn Gillette has announced that she will run for the new clerk/auditor position. Gillette has also registered for the Utah Association of County’s training for new county auditors.
Tooele County Auditor Mike Jensen said he has not made a decision about running for the office.
The commissioners expect the consolidation of the county clerk with the county auditor will produce a gross savings of $180,500 per year as the result of eliminating the salary and benefits of one elected official and one chief deputy.
The elimination of a separate elected county surveyor’s office will lead to a gross savings of $57,200 per year by the elimination of salary and wages of the part-time elected surveyor and a part-time employee.
Consolidation of travel and training expenses for the offices will result in an annual savings of $2,800, making for a total gross savings of $240,500.
However, according to the commission, the consolidation will require a $20,000 increase in expenses for an annual external audit; an additional $25,000 for contracted surveying work; and a contingency amount of $5,500 to cover unexpected expenses. After that the expected net annual savings is $190,000.
According to Transcript-Bulletin archives, the Tooele County Commission voted to separate the clerk/auditor position in December 1983, effective Jan. 1, 1984, the first time the positions had been separated since 1952.
Seven people were employed in the combined clerk/auditor office in 1983. As a result of the separation of duties, three employees were relocated to form the auditor’s office. Dennis Ewing served as the clerk/auditor at the time and continued as county clerk.
Ewing had been advocating the division of the office since 1979.
“I’m just too overloaded with work holding both of the positions,” he said in a published story about the division. “This way I can be more efficient.”
The county commission chose Glenn Caldwell, who worked as the county accountant under Ewing in the clerk/auditor’s office, to serve as the county auditor.
“We just thought they would operate better as separate offices,” said Charles “Chick” Stromberg, who served on the county commission at the time the offices were separated.