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County offices, long a tradition, remain separate

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

A standing-room-only crowd convinced the Summit County Council to not consolidate several elected offices in the County Courthouse.

Summit County Manager Bob Jasper hoped to save money and increase government efficiency by having the Treasurer’s Office consolidated with the county clerk and the county recorder combined with the Summit County Assessor’s Office.

But many residents from the East Side of Summit County shunned the plan at a County Council meeting Wednesday in Coalville.

"It’s a bad idea," North Summit resident Tom Boyer said. "The citizens of this county are the customers and I appreciate the opportunity to have my vote on those positions."

Coalville resident Dennis Wright said he was also against consolidating the offices.

"You’ve got to have checks and balances. That’s why all of these (offices) are out there," Wright said. "You’ve got one elected office watching the other elected office and keeping everyone in check."

Supporters of the proposal said salaries would decrease if the positions were combined. Including pay and benefits the treasurer, clerk, assessor and recorder each earn about $120,000 per year.

But former Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme said the county needs all of its elected positions.

"It will eventually be nibbled away until all of these offices become appointed and not elected," Woolstenhulme said. "The people then have no say."

Despite most counties in Utah having experimented with combining some offices, Henefer Mayor Randy Ovard said he was against consolidating the positions in Summit County.

"The end result here is to eliminate all of the elected officials," Ovard said. "I personally believe it’s the worst thing that I have seen in quite some time."

North Summit resident Mel Brown, who serves Summit County in the state House of Representatives, said when elected offices are consolidated "you reduce the voice of the people."

Combining the offices would be a mistake, North Summit resident Robyn Judd added.

"Each of these offices has such a broad spectrum of knowledge needed to run them," Judd said. "I don’t think there is any amount of money that could possibly be saved to make this a good decision."

For the newly consolidated offices to have appeared on the ballot this year the County Council would have needed to approve an ordinance to combine the positions by Feb. 1. Critics said councilpersons had rushed the decision to meet the tight deadline.

"I’ve been very torn," Summit County Councilwoman Claudia McMullin said. "I too have a personal feeling that this occurred too quickly."

She said she was not convinced consolidating the offices would make government more efficient.

"I would prefer personally to study the efficiencies," said McMullin. "I’m not convinced that this isn’t change for change’s sake."

After hearing from the public County Councilman Chris Robinson said he also would not vote to combine the positions.

"It’s a momentous decision," Robinson said. "I have concerns about the specialties that go with each of these elected offices."

But County Councilman John Hanrahan explained that the county would likely save money by consolidating the offices.

"It’s very clear that you don’t want this so I don’t support it," Hanrahan told the crowd.

Summit County Councilman David Ure said he would have also voted against the proposal.

"Having elected officials I think is one of the key foundations in a Democracy," Ure said.


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