Proposal to consolidate offices has merit

Plan offers clear advantages, but more assurance on savings, effectiveness and impact on services is needed

May 15, 2013 

At first blush, consolidating the offices of Auditor-Controller and Treasurer-Tax Collector under a single elected leader sounds like a sound plan.

According to a county staff report, it eventually would save taxpayers nearly $325,000 per year, mainly by eliminating an elected department head position. That savings, in and of itself, makes the idea worth exploring.

We believe the county Board of Supervisors was smart to move on to the next steps: a more in-depth staff report and a public hearing.

We’re surprised the two fiscal conservatives on the board — Debbie Arnold and Paul Teixeira — voted against the proposal. Among other issues, Arnold believes the public would be better served by two elected department heads, and Teixiera’s concerns include post-consolidation pay raises proposed for some financial staff.

We believe it’s too early to dismiss the proposal, especially since staff has spent more than three years developing it. Also, from what we’ve heard, we believe it has a great deal of merit, though some areas do need more scrutiny.

For one, we want some assurance that consolidation would in no way undermine or interfere with the performance of duties assigned to either of these departments.

We also would like more information about the experiences of other counties that consolidated their financial departments.

And we, too, would like a further explanation of why pay raises of 8 percent — 5 percent the first year and 3 percent the following year — have been proposed for five management employees if the consolidation occurs.

That said, we do see clear advantages to the plan.

As county Supervisor Frank Mecham mentioned, it would provide more opportunities to cross-train staff — making it easier to cover employee absences and to handle increased workloads during tax time and other busy periods.

It also would avoid duplication of efforts by combining similar work performed by the two departments, and it’s expected to improve customer service by increasing the number of staff members available to answer questions and by consolidating several financial-related services in one location.

We also believe it could boost the visibility of the office and generate more interest among voters at election time.

We should point out, too, that this is a good time to make the change, since the position of Treasurer/Tax Collector is vacant on account of the retirement of Frank Freitas.

Bottom line: While we’re not prepared to endorse the plan at this point, we believe the county is on the right track in looking for ways to streamline government.

If consolidation of the Auditor-Controller and Treasurer-Tax Collector can indeed save money and improve efficiency — without compromising service — we will enthusiastically support it.

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