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Editorial: Merge offices, save taxpayers money

The Cook County Seal on the carpet at the entrance to the County Building. | Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

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A good way to bury reform in government is to require a time-consuming study first. By the time the study is completed, the reform effort will be dead.

Unfortunately, exactly this strategy is being trotted out at the Cook County Board to stall a much-needed effort to save money by combining two elected offices. The commissioners should see it for what it is and reject it.

On June 29, the Cook County Board approved a long-overdue reform: putting a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot asking voters if the county’s recorder of deeds office should be merged in the office of the county clerk. If the referendum is approved, the offices would be combined in 2020.

It’s a no-brainer, really. We don’t need a separately elected official just to watch while employees record land transactions and other documents and collect real estate transfer fees.


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But now, it appears a superseding resolution will be introduced on Wednesday that would pull back the referendum and replace it with an advisory vote calling for — a study. If the measure passes, another reform will be dragged to the potter’s field of failed good intentions.

It’s not as if combining the offices is a new idea. It’s so obvious, it has been talked about forever. Five years ago, the board came within a vote of passing it. We understand the reluctance — the flip side of doing the same work more efficiently with fewer people on the payroll means fewer jobs for politicians to hand out. But sometimes you have to think of the taxpayers, too.

The Civic Federation, which President Laurence Msall says strongly supports the merger, has estimated the county could save a minimum of $800,000 a year by combining the two offices into one. County Board Commissioner John Fritchey, who proposed the reform, puts the savings at $1 million a year.

At a time when government at almost every level is imposing new taxes, it would be helpful to give voters a chance to save some money instead. The County Board should leave this referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

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