February 14, 2012
(See addendum: "No Quorum for Cook County Public Hearing")
On February 14, 2012 the Finance Committee of the Cook County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed resolution requesting a countywide referendum to abolish the Office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and transfer its operations to the County Clerk. The Civic Federation recommended the streamlining move in the Cook County Modernization Report published in October 2010 as a way to eliminate costly duplicative services and reduce citizen confusion about where to find the services they need.
If passed, the proposed resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Fritchey and co-sponsored by Commissioners Goslin, Garcia and Reyes, would place the following question before the electorate on the November 6, 2012 ballot:
“Shall the Office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds be eliminated and all duties and responsibilities of the Office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds be transferred to, and assumed by, the Office of the Cook County Clerk by December 1, 2013?”
The County Clerk and Recorder of Deeds keep and maintain various public records. The Clerk’s duties include administering elections, processing lobbyist registrations, maintaining vital records including birth and marriage certificates, providing real estate and tax services and preparing official documents for the Board of Commissioners. The Recorder’s Office is responsible for recording and digitalizing documents and collecting fees. In FY2012 General Fund appropriations will fund 144.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions for the Clerk’s office and 122.0 FTEs for the Recorder’s office. The FY2012 General Fund appropriations were $7.7 million for the County Clerk and $5.7 million for the Recorder of Deeds.
The similarity of administrative functions in these offices provides an opportunity for consolidation and potential cost savings. The proposed resolution indicates that the County could save over $1 million annually by merging the offices and consolidating functions. In the Cook County Modernization Report, the Civic Federation estimated cost savings of approximately $0.8 million, based on FY2010 General Fund expenditures of $16.3 million and an assumption of 5% reduction in costs. Former Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley estimated the County could save approximately $616,000 in his 2003 report Reinventing Cook County.
Other counties in Illinois – those with less than 60,000 inhabitants – have a combined clerk-recorder office, according to state law. In addition, many large metropolitan counties across the nation with populations more similar to Cook County have merged their clerk and recorder functions into one position. Some of these include Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties in California. Los Angeles County combined their Departments of Registrar of Voters and Recorder in 1968 and further merged the new department with the County Clerk in 1991. Before the merger, the three operations and 700 employees worked in separate facilities. According to LA County, in 1993 the department fulfilled its long-term goal of merging all functions to one site, “providing a permanent and secure headquarters for all operations, as well as its xtensive volume of 160 million documents.”
The Civic Federation published the Cook County Modernization Report to provide a roadmap for creating a government that is more efficient, less costly and more accountable. The referendum provides an opportunity for residents to vote on whether they would like the County to become more streamlined, serve the needs of the community efficiently and reduce the funding burden on citizens.