WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) -- Winnebago County voters will decide whether or not to consolidate the offices of Winnebago County Clerk and Recorder of Deeds on March 20.
"70 percent of counties around the state have a combined Clerk and Recorder’s Office," said Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney who wants to eliminate the Recorder of Deeds position and combine the tasks of the clerk and recorder.
"When you take two small offices and you combine them into one, there are some opportunities at cost savings long term. This is not a get rich quick, this doesn't solve all of our budget problems. It's one of a series of efficiency and I think effectiveness moves for the long term," said Chairman Haney.
"I am right now neither for nor against merging the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. I voted for it on the county board so that we could put it before the voters, but before we do anything else I would really like to see a plan that really addresses how we're going to save money by merging these two offices. I think the voters of Winnebago County need that information so that they can make an intelligent decision as well,” said District 19 Winnebago County Board Member Daniel Fellars.
Many counties in the state including some of the largest ones like Cook County and Peoria County have consolidated the clerk and recorder’s offices.
“Even McHenry County has it on the ballot March 20. You do save money right away although it's not a ton of money, you do eliminate a partisan elected position and I think that since I'm in charge of eight or nine departments, that you could have a county clerk that's in charge of two," said Chairman Haney.
The Regional Planning Council did a third-party study to look at how other counties across the state with a consolidated clerk-recorder office are doing.
"We looked at the pros and the cons and they determined it was feasible to consolidate. There is not one example of a clerk and recorder consolidation that failed and where the county was not able to provide good service to their citizens," said Chairman Haney.
"We know that some smaller counties have done this and some larger ones are certainly looking into it, but there's really no data out there on what the efficiency savings are and what the dollar savings are. I don't think anyone has looked into that enough to know what the answers are, so we could be going through with merging these two offices and it might ultimately end up creating more problems than it solves,” said Fellars.
Under the constitution, the county clerk is a required elected office. The recorder's office is not and can be eliminated.
"If this was the private sector, we wouldn't need a referendum; we'd do it with an email to make a change. Voters created the office of recorder by referendum, so by law, they can eliminate that office and put it under the county clerk. When I talk to folks in the community they routinely say, just because we've done it that way in the past isn't the reason to keep doing it that way. The same services will be provided; it will just be under one elected official," said Chairman Haney.
"At one sense it makes sense but without really understanding what it is we're trying to achieve, it's difficult to come to a conclusion that this is going to create some efficiencies and help save the county and taxpayers of Winnebago County’s money. I did vote for putting it on the ballot because at the end of the day, this is something that the voters need to decide and I don't want to take that choice away," said Fellars.
Chairman Haney says he's confident Winnebago County can successfully make this change.
"Communities that have gone in this direction have successfully transitioned. Not just the small counties but the larger and mid-sized counties like us as well, so I’m very confident that we can do what others have done successfully in the past. We have to be open to a series of small changes to effect big reform long term,” said Chairman Haney.
If voters approve the referendum, consolidation would take place no sooner than December 2020. The current Recorder of Deeds Nancy McPherson will finish the term she’s been elected to until December 2020 if the citizens vote yes.