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January 2, 2014
Tooele City Council members oppose plan to consolidate four offices

Tooele County Commissioners are set to vote on a plan to consolidate four county offices into two at their Jan. 7 commission meeting next week.

Some city officials in Tooele County are not excited about the commissioners’ plan, which consolidates the county clerk with the county auditor, and the county recorder with the county surveyor.

Tooele City Council members Scott Wardle and Brad Pratt oppose consolidating the offices.

“I actually think the way they are organized now is more efficient,” said Pratt. “As a city, we do business with these offices and I’m concerned how consolidating them might affect the timeliness of our business.”

Pratt said he wants an  independent study and more input before the commissioners eliminate elected offices.

“The commissioners want to compare us to class two counties, which we are not,” he said. “If we are serious about saving money, we should look at the counties that are most like us and how they are organized.”

The county should look at all possibilities, Pratt suggested.

“An independent study could also look at the possible savings of a part-time county commission that acts more like a council with a professional administrator,” he said. “That might create more efficiency and savings than consolidating offices.”

Wardle is also concerned about the process being used to change the county’s government.

“The elected offices belong to the people, not to the commissioners,” he said. “They may have the legal right to do this without a public hearing, but that is not the open and transparent way to do things. There should be an independent study followed by a well-publicized public hearing before a decision is made to consolidate elected offices.”

The consolidation plan was on the agenda for the commissioners’ Dec. 4 meeting, but was postponed after several members of the public spoke at the meeting and asked for more information.

Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall was among those who spoke in opposition to the consolidation plan at the Dec. 4 meeting.

“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.”

Commission Chairman Bruce Clegg explained at the Dec. 4 meeting the commission’s reason for wanting to combine the 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.”

However, when asked for details on the consolidation, including an organization plan for the combined offices and the estimated savings, Clegg was not able to provide details.

When asked at the Dec. 4 meeting how much money was going to be saved by the consolidation, Clegg responded, “I do not have those figures.”

The commissioners now have details on the consolidation and will present them at their Jan. 7 meeting prior to a discussion and vote to consolidate the four elected offices into two.

However, Clegg said today the commissioners do not plan to ask for public comment during the agenda item on consolidating offices at their Jan. 7 meeting.

State law gives commissioners the authority to consolidate county offices without a public hearing or vote by citizens. However, 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.

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