Saving Tax Money Through Merger

Merger of county offices up to voters proposal tabled until the next county board meeting. The Cassgram reportsCass County Commissioners heard from the county register of deeds and the county assessor and then talked amongst themselves about what they think are the pros and cons of combining the two positions. There was no vote taken on whether to put the question of merging those offices before voters in the November General Election.

Discussion at this week’s county board meeting indicates commissioners have differing views at this time.

“I look at it as a way to control spending,” said District 1 Commissioner John Baroni. With the budget figures he presented, Baroni said having one elected official and one deputy overseeing those departments would save over $32,000 annually.

District 2 Commissioner Janet McCartney questioned there would be just one deputy. She noted that Lancaster, a county where voters decided to merge the offices, has a deputy in each side of the merged office.

Saying it was a “food for thought” comment, District 5 Commissioner Ron Nolte queried, “If we would put this on the ballot, is the public well informed enough—and I’m not trying to take anything away from the voting public—but is the public well-informed enough to make a legitimate decision on this?” Even though he’s studied the merger, Nolte said he still didn’t think he was informed enough yet to make a decision on whether to put it on the ballot.

McCartney agreed with Nolte. She said she’s still learning about the assessor and register of deeds offices and is gathering information about the state statutes they have to follow. So she too had concerns about how to educate voters.

“My take is …put it on the ballot. People are smarter than we think,” said Baroni. It will be up to the media to put out the information, he said.

The merger would also provide the potential of “providing better service to the public,” said Baroni.

“I’m still not convinced we will gain anything by combining them,” said McCartney. “I just don’t think it’s going to save enough money to go forward.”

Board Chairman Jim Peterson said the merger question “is a budgetary matter” and was “not put on the agenda as a witch hunt against any particular officeholder.” Noting recent state cutbacks to counties and possible future changes that could impact future budgets, “We have a responsibility to look at ways of giving the best value” to citizens of the county.

Peterson urged commissioners to put their thoughts in writing and share them at the next meeting. A vote to that effect passed 4 to 1. Baroni cast the only vote against tabling the merger issue.

Cassgram has requested and is receiving information from Cass County Register of Deeds Dave Jordan and Cass County Assessor Allen Sutcliffe that provide summarizations of the responsibilities of each office. Look for those reports in an upcoming Cassgram.

(If the merger is on the ballot and passes, the merger would not occur until the 2014 election process.)

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