CHICAGO — This past Election Day, Cook County voters chose to merge the Cook County Clerk’s Office and the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, a move supporters believe will result in cost savings and increased efficiency for taxpayers.
Dick Simpson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Cook County Record that "the results are an expression of voters' appetite for structured reform and local government. It was a move to tackle the issue of the clutter of the ballot."
The merger vote came about six years after The Civic Foundation, a nonpartisan government research organization, published its 2010 Cook County Modernization Report, which recommended the merger as a way to "eliminate costly duplication and reduce citizen confusion in finding the services they need," forecasting approximate annual savings up to $1 million tax dollars. Further, the group reported that eight of the nation’s 10 largest counties had combined their recorder and clerk offices. For Fiscal Year 2016, the County Clerk was allocated $8.2 million and the Recorder $5.2 million. The Clerk's 2016 budget is $35.2 million and the Recorder's is $12.6 million.
Simpson said he believes the merger was necessary.
"Streamlining is a major issue to make government more efficient and accountable, and this merger makes the function of property tax more structured," he said, estimating that taxpayers could save more than $800,000 annually.
Allegations of racism swirled around the referendum, voted 10-5 by the County's Board of Commissioners during the summer to be put on the November election ballot. The Recorder's position has been held by an African-American since 1988, including current Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough. All five African-American County Board Commissioners voted against the proposal. County Clerk David Orr, elected since 1991, supported the proposed merger.
Simpson said he believes the racial allegations may continue because of the African-American control over several appointed offices, but said this isn't the issue the electorate feels is at stake. The referendum gave Dec. 7, 2020, as the deadline for absorption of the Recorder’s office.
Both officers are elected officials, and maintain and manage different county records. The Clerk's office keeps birth, marriage and death records, calculates property tax rates, oversees elections in the county’s suburbs, and maintains County Board records and ethics filings.
The Recorder's office creates public records of land transactions, federal and state tax liens, articles of incorporation, and uniform commercial code filings and keeps property records, tracks liens, collects transfer taxes and stores veterans' discharge records.
Simpson said that similar mergers may be in the making, and that a series of entire government units like townships and unincorporated offices could be under consideration.
"Mergers like these will help to ensure that government is more accountable, efficient and cheaper," Simpson said.