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Local Government

McHenry County Board to vote on referendum to abolish recorder's office

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board will decide later this month whether voters will be asked in March whether they want to abolish the elected office of county recorder.

In a 6-0 vote Friday, the County Board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Government Consolidation advanced the proposed binding referendum to the full board at its June 20 voting meeting. Should members approve it, voters will be asked the question on the March 20 primary ballot.

Voters in November elected Republican Joe Tirio on a platform of eliminating the office and merging it with the county clerk’s office, as it is in most Illinois counties. Tirio was joined Friday by Republican County Clerk Mary McClellan and Democratic County Board Chairman Jack Franks, all three of whom worked to bring the resolution to the committee.

“Bringing the question of consolidating the offices of the county recorder and county clerk was an important part of my campaign’s mission and a tangible manifestation of reform in government,” Tirio said after the vote.

What little debate arose from the 30-minute meeting did not defend keeping the office – most board members and staff have all but seen abolition by overtaxed voters as a foregone conclusion – but whether the referendum should be held in the November 2018 midterm election.

Holding the referendum in March was McClellan’s idea, with Franks and Tirio supporting the idea of giving the county an extra seven months to prepare for consolidation if the voters approve it. A March referendum also would give the county the ability to start preparing for it, such as reallocating space, at the start of the process for developing the 2019 budget.

“McHenry County should make every effort to let taxpayers drive efforts to reduce property taxes and the size of government. Today’s vote is a very positive step in this direction – the need for change is clear and by empowering voters, they will be directly guiding our efforts,” McClellan said.

Should voters approve the referendum, the office will be consolidated into the county clerk’s office with the Dec. 1, 2020, end of Tirio’s first, and last, term as recorder.

The recorder’s office, which has 3.4 million documents on file, is responsible for recording, retrieving and maintaining land records and real estate transactions, subdivision plans, military discharge papers and other records. 

Most of the state’s 102 counties have a combined clerk and recorder’s office because state law requires a county to have at least 60,000 people to separate them. But with the advance of scanning and computer storage technology, several counties with separate offices have consolidated them as a cost-cutting measure.

Cutting costs wherever government can is important, said Franks, who ran on a platform of slimming down county government and cutting its property tax levy for next year by at least 10 percent.

“Our path to reducing next year’s property tax levy by at least 10 percent is really taking shape right now. But we also need to seize every opportunity we have to bring unnecessary spending down in the medium and long term so taxpayers will see substantial savings for years to come,” Franks said.

Although committee member Donna Kurtz voted in favor of moving the resolution forward, she indicated she might not support it on the full board floor. She said she favors holding the referendum in November to take advantage of greater voter turnout.

“I don’t feel comfortable with rushing into this date. I would like to have more discussion on this – I think we’re rushing into this,” said Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.

But the majority said the referendum – especially one about eliminating an elected office – will encourage more participation. McClellan, whose office runs elections, told the committee that referendums historically help drive turnout.

“I understand the thinking, but I also understand that people will come out and vote if they’re interested in it,” said committee member Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake.

Voters in other counties have chosen to eliminate their recorder’s offices in recent years. Recorder’s offices were consolidated in 2011 in Tazewell County, in 2012 in McLean County, in 2014 in Peoria County and last year in Cook County.

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