Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

October 7, 2014
Lapse of reason?

If commissioners really want to save money, they won’t pursue hiring a finance director 

The Tooele County Commissioners have suffered either a momentary lapse of reason, or think no one notices when they change a key decision for causes other than previously explained.

Last week, the commissioners approved a tentative 2015 budget that — other than being nearly $5 million over budget and which has them considering another tax increase — contains a new job position that has more than a few county citizens feeling bewildered, disappointed or angry.

That new position is for a director of finance. As explained in last Thursday’s story, “Commissioners want to hire new finance director,” the county’s top elected officials want to take budget, accounting and accounts payable functions away from the new Tooele County Clerk/Auditor office and give them to a finance director.

The finance director will be hired by, and answer to, the county commission. The proposed salary is nearly $80,000 per year and includes nearly $53,000 in annual benefits. Although it’s part of a tentative budget that will likely undergo revision before final adoption in December, apparently there is nothing tentative about the new job position — it has already been posted on the county’s website.

Commissioner Shawn Milne said he hopes to have someone hired and working before the end of December. He also said, “We need a good person that can get us accurate and timely information.”

According to a new state law that goes into effect on Jan. 1, the commissioners have the legal right to pull such responsibilities away from the clerk/auditor office and hire a finance director. Yet, what makes their decision troubling is that it contradicts what they did and said less than a year ago.

In a controversial decision, the commissioners voted last January to combine the Tooele County Clerk and Tooele County Auditor offices. They initially said last fall that eliminating the salary and benefits of one elected official and one chief deputy would save the county money and improve efficiency. When pressed at a commission meeting last December for a cost-benefit analysis, commissioners said a figure would be forthcoming. Yet it wasn’t until January that it was announced the combined clerk/auditor office would save the county approximately $180,500 per year.

According to state statute, the county auditor is the county’s budget officer who performs accounting services and pays the county’s bills. But based on results, the commissioners don’t want the new clerk/auditor office to perform that function in 2015.

Commissioner Milne said that the two commission candidates who win in the November General Election will be invited to help in the hiring process. But if last Thursday’s Q&A session for county candidates is an accurate indicator, there won’t be any commissioner-elects on an interview panel (See related front page story).

The commissioners could say that they’ll still save the county about $48,000 a year despite hiring a finance director. But logic suggests it wouldn’t take long before that new finance director may request hiring staff to help with data entry or other financial related duties. Any lingering savings may then quickly disappear.

Based on last Thursday night’s Q&A session with the candidates, all of whom said they oppose hiring a finance director, if the current commissioners hire one anyway, he or she may be job hunting in 2015. If the current commissioners really want to save money, they won’t ignore the writing on the wall.

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