County Government

Provenza opposes consolidating assessor’s office with clerk/recorder

By From page A1 | October 24, 2013

A plan to consolidate Yolo County’s assessor’s office with that of the clerk/recorder received preliminary approval from county supervisors this week. An ordinance combining the two elected offices will return to the board for a vote next month.

But the proposal — which would take effect at the end of 2014 when the current elected office-holders complete their terms — does not have the support of all board members.

Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis voted against the plan on Tuesday because of concerns that the elections office — currently part of the clerk/recorder’s office — would either get lost in the consolidation or end up losing its autonomy.

Provenza said combining the assessor and recorder offices makes sense because both deal primarily with real property.

Currently, the assessor sets property values while the recorder’s office files and maintains public documents associated with land transactions, including sales, liens, purchases and easements.

“They are a good fit to have in one department,” Provenza said.

But it’s the elections component of the clerk/recorder’s office that gives him pause.

In addition to a number of other duties, the clerk serves as registrar of voters, registering all voters in the county and maintaining the voter files. The clerk also verifies petitions, files campaign statements and conducts elections in the county.

Provenza said one of the busiest times for the clerk is during June elections, which also happens to be the busiest time for the county assessor, who is required to produce an annual assessment roll.

“I wouldn’t want elections to be a second fiddle,” Provenza said.

An alternative plan that was floated — and that is used in some other counties — would keep the registrar of voters separate, run by an appointed department head. But that has drawbacks as well, Provenza said.

“Having that person be independent is really important,” he said. “I think it’s important that there not be the perception that either the board or (county administrator’s office) have influence over the elections office.”

Currently, 26 counties in California have a combined assessor/recorder office and 16 of those counties have added the clerk duties as well. Eight have added the registrar of voters, according to county staff.

Counties that have consolidated report saving money and improving customer service.

Santa Barbara County, for example, initially saved $182,000 by eliminating management positions, offset by $28,000 in increased salaries and management restructuring. At the same time, the county reduced the lag time between property transfer and appraisal by two weeks, staff reported.

Yolo County’s savings would depend on how salaries are structured, staff said, but would save a portion of the current clerk/recorder salary of $116,066.

Supervisors are expected to vote on a Yolo County consolidation at their next board meeting on Nov. 5. As currently written, the ordinance would combine the assessor, recorder and clerk — including the registrar of voters — into one elected office.

Current office-holders Assessor Joel Butler and Clerk/Recorder Freddie Oakley will be up for re-election in June and their terms expire at the end of 2014.

Oakley said last month that she will seek re-election whether the offices are consolidated or not; Butler said he had not decided whether he would run again, and the consolidation proposal “could have an impact on that decision.”

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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