Peoria County voters will consider two consolidations

Andy Kravetz GateHouse Media Illinois

Next month, Peoria County voters will decide whether they want to keep electing a person to be the recorder of deeds or to merge that office into another elected office, that of county clerk.

Voters also will get a chance to decide whether to consolidate the city’s and the county’s election commissions under one roof.

Proponents of the referendums on the Nov. 4 ballot say the measures will streamline government and save taxpayers money. Opponents counter that ballot proposals were pushed through at the last minute and are more political in nature than cost-cutting. To them, the system isn’t broken.

At the County Board meeting this week, board member Andrew Rand painted the recorder debate as a battle between those who want a modern style of government and those who want to keep things the way they have always been. Others, such as current Recorder Nancy Horton, say the recorder’s office has functioned well for more than 100 years, so there’s no need to change things.

Allen Mayer, one of the board members leading the charge for the consolidation of the clerk and the recorder, says savings could be up to $175,000 if the recorder’s position and the chief deputy recorder’s position were eliminated. At least, he says, taxpayers could save about $100,000 a year based upon estimates from Tazewell and McLean counties, both of which have done this.

But other board members, such as Robert Baietto, have said those savings are an illusion. Baietto has recommended trimming the 18-person County Board rather than eliminating an elected position. Others believe service for area residents could suffer.

Any savings, however, wouldn’t begin until December 2016, or until after Horton finishes her term in office.

The election commission is something that Peoria County has long wanted to consolidate with the city. Twice before, though, voters have rejected the notion, with the last vote coming within the past decade.

If approved, the consolidation would create a countywide entity that has five commissioners — three from within the city of Peoria limits, two from the rest of the county — with no more than three coming from any political party. All would be appointed by the chief judge of the local judicial circuit, and the new commission would then hire staff.

Those in favor say this will save taxpayers money as the county is required by state law to provide space for the city’s election commission, which is housed in the old police headquarters building Downtown. The county also is paying $110,000 each year to lease office space used by the now former Care and Treatment Board, 2016 N. Knoxville Ave.

The plan is to take the county’s commission out of the county clerk’s office and the city’s commission out of its space, merge them and move them into the office space on Knoxville.

Opponents have said the idea could create another layer of bureaucracy as well as make things more difficult for voters who now have two commissions instead of one. County Clerk Steve Sonnemaker says he thinks the idea could actually cost the county, noting that elections are a seasonal experience. His employees who manage the county’s election commission are cross-trained in other areas of his office. A separate election commission could mean more, rather than less, cost to Peoria County.