County to consider elimination of recorder's office

County to consider elimination of recorder's office

URBANA — Voters may be asked in November whether to eliminate the office of Champaign County recorder of deeds, an elected position that dates back to 1833.

County board members will begin discussing the possibility of terminating the office at a committee of the whole meeting Thursday evening. The county board would have to vote by August to put the question on the general election ballot.

In neighboring McLean County, voters in November 2012 approved eliminating the office and folding its duties into the county clerk's office. The move has saved the county more than $100,000 in the former recorder's salary and benefits, according to County Clerk Kathy Michael.

"And I think it's gone really well so far," she said. "We reached out to the attorneys and the title companies that use the office, and the staff the recorder has left has been absolutely wonderful."

The saving in Champaign County would be more modest — probably between $40,000 and $50,000 — according to County Administrator Deb Busey.

"There would likely not be the capacity to save entirely one full-time equivalent in Champaign County as there was in McLean County," Busey said in a memo to county board members. "We are a larger county with a higher volume of recording transactions. With the elimination of the elected recorder position, an additional line staff position would likely need to be added to maintain the staffing budget at the current 5.5 positions."

The saving would come in the difference between the recorder's salary (now $86,328) and a line staff position, Busey said.

It's an opportune time to discuss the change, she said, because the current recorder, Republican Barb Frasca, has said she will retire at the end of her current term, her fourth.

"We would not be negatively impacting a sitting elected official, and doing it two years before it actually goes into effect, that gives us two years into the transition, and no one will have completely geared up a political campaign to try to take the office if this decision is made in November," Busey said.

Still, Frasca opposes the move.

"I am now and have always been opposed to combining the offices. I don't think they can show enough, if any, benefit that would counteract the loss in services and possibly revenue," Frasca said in an e-mailed response. "The recorder's office is a major revenue generating office which is generally self-sufficient.

"This topic has been a monkey on my back since I took office. I have never seen a tangible benefit. I think the old adage applies: 'If it's not broke, don't fix it.'"

Frasca said she has no one in mind to succeed her in 2016 but added, "I think it will be sad to lose the autonomy that I have had to run the office effectively. I would definitely ask for some solid numbers on savings."

County board member James Quisenberry, an Urbana Democrat, said he believes the change could lead to efficiencies.

"(Frasca) has repeatedly come to us about her understaffing issues. In the current model, we would eventually need to expand their staffing. As a part of the clerk's office, the peaks and valleys of workload are such that staff could be cross-trained to assist from one side to the other," he said. "That is not a real savings in terms of spending being cut, but from a standpoint of efficiency, it means we won't need to address one department's peak need for staffing by adding personnel."

He said he wants to see the issue on the ballot this fall, just as county voters weighed in two years ago on whether to get rid of the elected county auditor.

"I think it is a good idea, but having it on the ballot allows a public discussion of the merits. Even though I didn't think getting rid of an elected auditor was a good idea, I supported it being on the ballot for the same reason," Quisenberry said. "The time is right for the discussion because from all available information, the current recorder is not going to run again. That makes it less about how well (or poorly) an individual is doing the job and more about whether we need the elected office or not."

Mahomet Republican John Jay said the 10 GOP members of the county board hadn't discussed the possible change but added, "I think we'd be open to listening to it."

County Clerk Gordy Hulten, a Republican who so far is unopposed for reelection this November, said he is staying out of the debate over the issue, which would have his office taking over the functions of the recorder's office.

"Honestly, my first reaction is that I'm sad to see that (Frasca is) retiring," he said. "Ultimately, if the board and the voters decide to shift those responsibilities to our office, we'll have two years to rely on her expertise and experience, and that of her excellent staff, to make the transition as smooth as possible."

The recorder's office serves an administrative function, filing and maintaining records related to property transactions. It also is responsible for recording and storing subdivision plats, land surveys, monument records, military discharge records, foreign birth certificates and foreign marriage licenses.

State law says that in counties with populations less than 60,000, the county clerk also is the recorder. And in counties with populations greater than 60,000, the offices can be combined. That's happened in six counties, including McLean. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included Macon County in this list, based on the county board memo from Champaign County Administrator Deb Busey. But Macon County has an elected recorder.)

Only 19 counties — most of them with populations greater than 100,000 — operate with an elected recorder of deeds. If Champaign County eliminates the elected recorder of deeds, it would be the largest county in the state with the combined office.

Champaign County has had a recorder of deeds since the county was founded in 1833, but for nearly 100 years the circuit clerk and recorder's offices were combined. In 1932 the county got its first full-time recorder of deeds, C. Ross Mills.

Frasca said her office has county records dating to 1833.

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macon county clerk wrote on May 13, 2014 at 9:05 am

Macon County still has a County Recorder. Tazawell  and Adams Counties recently voted to combined the Clerk and Recorder's offices.

In the early 2000s Macon County voters voted against abloishing the Auditor's Office.

Mike Howie wrote on May 13, 2014 at 11:05 am
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Thanks for the comment. The memo to the county board on this topic contained erroneous information about Macon County. The story has been fixed to reflect that.

Mike Howie

online editor

alabaster jones 71 wrote on May 14, 2014 at 11:05 pm
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Oh my.  With spelling and grammar like that, I hope for the sake of Macon County residents that you are not actually their county clerk.

kathymichael wrote on May 13, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Regarding the added link provided to your Co. Administrator's summary, the Chief Deputy Recorder actually took a position with Administration just before the offices were combined.  She was making approx. $42,000 plus benefits.

We have one Chief Deputy who now  serves both the Clerk and Recorder "divisions", rather than two CD's.  The one Chief Deputy from the Clerk Division did not receive an increase in salary.

So, the staffing difference with the CD moving to another department, saved an additional approximate $25,000 plus benefits.  Again, we were extremely fortunate to have very qualified Recording staff who stayed with us during the transition.  We also did a lot of outreach, per this article, to attorneys and title companies, and the public and media, to keep everyone aware of our open-door policy and reached out for advice, and comments; good and bad. 

Cross-training has been seamless thus far, thanks to great staff in both divisions.  We are on two separate floors, as before, and it seems to be working fine as it did before.  Recording Division is on the Mezzanine and Clerk's Division is on the first floor; all in the Government Center.

Feel free to contact me anytime for additional comments and information.  This is not to say or presume what works for McLean County will work for other counties.  But we answered to the decision of the voters as it should be, and after six months, it seems to be working out as we had hoped, with a considerable savings for the taxpayers.

Kathy Michael, McLean County Clerk




bafrasca wrote on May 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

I believe that it should be noted that the last Recorder in McLean County was ineffective and very much disliked. The office was, from the comments made to me by the individuals that use both our offices,  in a very bad state. I am glad that Kathy has found success in the combining the offices. I think it needs to be noted, however, that once again this county is smaller and records less documents than Champaign County. Barb Frasca

johnny wrote on May 19, 2014 at 5:05 am

Funny, then, he won re-election the same day his position was eliminated.  Very much disliked at certain cocktail parties is more like it.

bafrasca wrote on May 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

  The language of the proposal put forth by Deb Busey shows a promising savings from the ability to cross train employees of the county clerk and recorder. I think that it needs to be noted that our operating systems are completely different from those of the County Clerk. It would require purchasing new hardware and software to allow the County Clerk's office to be able to learn and use the recording system. Although the County Clerk and Recorder are situated within the same building, there is a distance between our offices which would mean an inability to supervise the day to day business of the office, its concerns as well as its opportunities for growth. There is a misconception that since the clerks' and recorders' offices are combined in small counties,that they in some way have something in common with each other. Their functions, however, are completely different. What we do on a day to day basis has nothing what so ever to do with the work of the county clerk. Combining offices, which I believe at any level is wrong, would make more sense to combine the recorder and the supervisor of assessments, or the s of a with the county clerk or treasurer. At the very least these offices share information and functionality. I believe in government by and for the people. I know that there is a huge backlash concerning the inefficiences of our political system and those elected to run it, but removing an elected office that has been so very important to our county will truly be a terrible loss. Barb Frasca