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Editorial: Merge Cook County offices of clerk, recorder of deeds

Brian Jackson photo/Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County has an opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by merging two very similar elected offices. The County Board — and voters — should make sure this happens.

When the County Board meets next week, it should adopt a proposal by Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, to put a referendum on the November ballot to merge the recorder of deeds office into that of the county clerk.

The board came within a vote of doing so five years ago. By not acting, it continued a wasteful practice of paying twice for similar services. Most of the other largest counties around the nation avoid that extra cost by offering those services out of a single office. So do most of the other counties in Illinois.


The recorder of deeds office, now headed by Karen Yarbrough, keeps track of land transactions and other documents. It also collects real estate transfer fees. The county clerk’s office, now headed by David Orr, keeps track of other records, such as birth certificates and business names. It also calculates tax rates and runs suburban elections.

These are very similar functions, and could be performed under the eye of just one elected official. 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. Fritchey puts the savings at $1 million a year. That’s an opportunity the county should seize.

Even with a recent sales tax increase and extra money flowing to Stroger Hospital because of the Affordable Care Act, Cook County’s budget faces challenges. Merging the county clerk and recorder of deeds offices would help. It’s a concept that has been supported both by Orr and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

If the County Board approves the idea at its meeting next week, the proposal would go before voters on the Nov. 8 ballot. If it’s approved, the offices would be combined in 2020.

Cook County voters already eliminated one elected office when they voted in 1972 to replace an elected coroner with an appointed medical examiner. But Cook County still has 29 separately elected officials. Los Angeles County has eight.

Governments at every level, from the City of Chicago to the State of Illinois, need new revenues to pay for their huge piles of unpaid obligations. But they shouldn’t try to close the gap only with tax increases. They need to balance new revenues with trimming unnecessary expenses.

Combining two offices doing similar jobs would be a good place to start.

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