Tooele County Commissioners have put a temporary hold on their plan to combine the offices of four elected county officials into two offices.
The agenda for the Dec. 3 county commission meeting included an ordinance to consolidate the county clerk with the county auditor and the county recorder with the county surveyor.
The agenda, which is posted online, was the first and only public notice of the commissioner’s reorganization plan.
The commissioners decided to postpone a vote on the consolidation after several members of the public spoke at the meeting and asked for more information on the proposed consolidation.
During the meeting, Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg explained the commission’s reason for combining the elected offices.
“As commissioners we are united in the quest to keep our government smaller and our expenses down,” he said. “We are looking for every way possible to save money. There are 29 counties in Utah, 18 of them have combined their clerk and auditors. We feel that we can be more efficient both in money paid out for employees and more efficient in serving the public by combining the offices.”
Although state law gives commissioners the authority to consolidate county offices without a public hearing or vote by citizens, Clegg gave citizens present at the meeting the opportunity to speak about the proposed ordinance.
Thirteen people stepped to the podium in the former district courtroom to speak about the consolidation.
Matt McCarty, a resident of South Rim, asked the commissioners to take more time to consider the consolidation and share their plans with the public.
“Just straight up, I’ve got a couple problems with this,” he said. “I don’t think the county has reached out to the public with this ahead of time. It was very short notice. To me this doesn’t look like a good thing. It looks like it is concentrating power in fewer hands.”
McCarty went on to say he has not seen a clear plan of how the new offices will be organized and where savings will be produced.
“I don’t see the logic and the county has not presented the logic other than to say ‘We think we can save money,’” he added. “Furthermore, you have failed to present any plan to show how this will go forward other than to say ‘We think we can keep the counters open better.’ You haven’t presented any plan for combining the offices.”
Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall also spoke in opposition to the consolidation.
“As a municipality, we utilize all four offices,” he said. “By eliminating some of the offices, you are eliminating checks and balances. By combining these offices, we are regressing, taking a step backwards. I think we can talk about this and find some other alternatives.”
Jeff McNeill asked how much money was going to be saved by the consolidation.
His question was answered by a short silent pause until Clegg responded, “I do not have those figures.”
Erik Gumbrecht of Tooele, said in light of decreasing county revenue, he may support the consolidation after taking a look at how much money it will save.
“There needs to be time taken to see how much it [the consolidation] will save,” he said. “And then the right decision needs to be made, even if it is unpopular.”
Mike Garrard, owner of Bargain Buggys, said continuing talks of budget problems is hurting his and other county businesses.
“All this talk of cutting and bankruptcy is killing us,” he said. “Since it started our sales have gone way down. You don’t even know how much money it is going to save. Help us out here and stop scaring people.”
The county commission can’t displace an elected official in the consolidation of offices before the end of their term.
State law requires that any ordinance consolidating or separating county offices must be enacted by Feb. 1 of the year in which county officers are elected and take effect on the first Monday of January in the following year.
If the commission passes the ordinance to combine offices, it will take effect in 2015, setting the stage for a clerk/auditor and recorder/surveyor race in 2014 that may feature incumbents competing for the same office.
Clegg was joined by Commissioner Jerry Hurst in voting to postpone a decision on the consolidation until the first county commission meeting in January. Commissioner Shawn Milne opposed the postponement.