One County May Reduce Government

County starts reducing government. That could lead to a public vote on the merger of two county offices -- The 4 to 1 board vote resulted in the ordering of public notices and the setting of a public hearing on merging the County Assessor and Register of Deeds Offices according to the Cassgram.

If the idea then goes forward, it would be up to voters in the November General Election to decide if the two offices combine.

The merger is something that was talked about before. It surfaced in February of 2010 as a possible way to streamline operations but was tabled. At the time, there had already been candidate filings for assessor and register of deeds for the 2010 elections and the county board decided to revisit the question in the 2012 election year. That way, if there was a consolidated office position to be placed on the ballot and it passes, it would better fit in with the regular election cycle. Courthouse offices will next be up for election in 2014.

Lancaster County merged the two offices and the Douglas County board has talked about putting it on the ballot.

District 1 Commissioner John Baroni said he was all for placing the consolidation question on the ballot and made a motion to that effect. However, that died for lack of a second after County Election Commissioner Nancy Josoff reminded the board about the formal public notices and public hearing process that is spelled out in state law.

Board Chairman Jim Peterson alluded to “situations going on between those two offices.” He said he knows of “citizens that are not happy with the performance level they’ve received” in getting land legal descriptions corrected and that attorneys are now involved. “If we have this type of a situation continuing, then possibly, in my opinion, we need to ask the voters to reexamine these positions.”

County Assessor Allen Sutcliffe said that with the exception of one matter, he knows of no other issues involving attorneys. “Yes, there are some practical applications and what-nots that are points of disagreement between Dave (Register of Deeds Dave Jordan) and I, and what we do. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to sit down and work out procedures.”

Sutcliffe said he was disappointed that board members don’t communicate more directly with him and that an issue like this suddenly appears on a public agenda for discussion.

“We did talk about it before, back in 2010,” said Baroni, who added he’s been in Sutcliffe’s office to discuss various topics.

District 2 Commissioner Janet McCartney cast the no vote. She urged commissioners to take some time to learn more about any potential savings and how service to the public with a merged office could be affected before starting the process.

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