Counties look to appoint posts previously elected

Published 8:22 am Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bill would give Freeborn, Mower option to appoint auditor-treasurer, recorder

Mower and Freeborn counties may soon be walking the line between saving taxpayers’ money and reducing the right to vote.

A bill that would give both counties the ability to appoint the auditor-treasurer and recorder positions is in the House. Rep. Rich Murray (R-Albert Lea) added the proposal for Mower and Freeborn counties to House File 1544, which started as just a proposal for appointments in Marshall County.

The bill, Murray said, will allow counties to ensure they have qualified people in positions. He said the bill is “another tool that’s just going to help counties manage their affairs better.”

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However, Murray noted, this is just the start.

“This has to go a long ways yet,” Murray said. “This is not approved. This has not been signed.”

If the bill passes, the county board would appoint a recorder and auditor-treasurer, positions which were previously elected.

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said the move could save $75,000 to $100,000 annually by allowing the county to adjust how the offices are staffed.

The county could save money by reducing the number of department heads and potentially merging different parts of the recorder, auditor-treasurer and assessor’s offices.

Oscarson said up to 50 counties in the state have at least one of those positions appointed, and a similar bill passed the Legislature for Kittson County this year — albeit by a small margin.

“It’s not like we’re the first county that’s gone down this road,” he said.

A similar bill was introduced in the House last year, but it quickly died amid stiff opposition.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) carried the legislation last year, but she previously said she would not introduce the bill a second time because it faced heavy opposition.

“It’s difficult to get it through the Legislature,” she said. “It becomes a very political — not partisan — debate.”

Along with different faces in the Legislature, Oscarson said, a key difference this year may be a heightened sense of urgency to reduce the budget wherever possible.

“It’s real clear that we all have a budget issue,” he said.

If the bill were to pass, the public would still have a say. The public would be able to petition in opposition to the bill, and the move can’t take effect until the end of the current elected term, which lasts through 2014.