County officials to propose consolidations in their departments

Monday, June 6, 2011

On the heels of Cape Girardeau County Commissioner Jay Purcell's parks reorganization plan, at least two more county administrators are looking to consolidate their departments, leaving vacant positions unfilled and potentially saving the county tens of thousands of dollars a year.

At the Cape Girardeau County Commission meeting today, County Auditor Pete Frazier and Recorder Scott Clark will propose plans to reduce the size of their department's small work forces, giving more responsibilities to the remaining employees, with commensurate raises. Ultimately, however, the officeholders, each five months into his first term, say the departments could realize some savings to taxpayers.

With the retirement last week of Virgie Koeppel, the auditor's chief deputy, Frazier proposes promoting the office's deputy, Beth Biri, to the position. Biri's post would remain vacant, at least through the end of the year, to determine whether the change is workable, if it could be permanently implemented.

"As of now, my hope is Beth and I are able to complete all tasks in the office without having to fill the deputy position," Frazier said.

The true test, he said, will come at budget time, the office's busiest period -- tantamount to tax season for public accountants.

Biri would receive a $5,000 raise, under Frazier's proposal, with another $2,000 in benefits. The deputy auditor currently earns $21,000 a year, and Koeppel made $38,000 annually after 28 years of service with the county.

The two-person department could realize about $15,000 in savings for the rest of the year, and, if permanently enacted, the consolidation plan could net taxpayers as much as $30,000 a year in savings, Frazier estimates.

Clark has been conducting a trial run of a similar realignment in the recorder's office for the past few months.

Renee Seabaugh left her deputy recorder position in late February after 35 years on the job. Clark, who said he had been mulling over consolidation since the November election, knowing a retirement in a veteran staff member was a distinct possibility, began his pilot program by tracking numbers. He decided to realign the department and see if the three-employee staff could handle all of the duties.

So far so good, he said.

His analysis showed documents processed are up this year compared to last year. As of Friday, the office handled 6,201 documents this year, 624 more during the same period in 2010.

"I came to the conclusion that, right now, with our current work level, yes we can get things done," Clark said. "We're working a little harder than before, but it's manageable."

And, the recorder said, his staff has been agreeable to the changes.

The employees would receive more compensation under the plan, somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 a year, depending on experience, Clark said.

The county could realize $20,000 to $25,000 in savings per year, Clark said, although he cautions those figures are subject to change depending on the needs of the department. Seabaugh's salary was $34,000 a year. Other savings could come through handling plats and surveys in-house, the auditor said.

If wait times for customers begin to creep up, Clark said he'll have to revaluate not filling the deputy position.

"Customer service is my No. 1 focus. My concern is how long will they have to wait," he said. "I have a retail background and I know that customer satisfaction declines the longer they have to wait in line."

Late last month, the commission unanimously approved Purcell's plan to permanently eliminate the parks superintendent position, which has been vacant since Feb. 9, when Bruce Watkins left the post. Purcell, the commissioner in charge of the county's parks system, had temporarily assumed many of the duties of the superintendent, while some of the responsibilities shifted to other park personnel.

Savings under the consolidation are expected to top $40,000 annually through the elimination of the superintendent's salary, according to Purcell. Some of that money will be plugged back into parks improvement projects. The commissioner has been a proponent of consolidation in nearly all areas of county government -- departments and buildings -- for years.

Frazier said his plan is not following the lead of Purcell, but is in general tied to a spirit of fiscal austerity.

"The sentiment right now by everybody nationwide, statewide and in local government is that spending has gotten out of hand," the auditor said. "We're very mindful right now in regards to our spending, of not trying to overspend."

Clark said the realignments aren't the charge of new blood among county elected officials; they are about what makes fiscally good sense for two departments.

"We're all trying to trim our budgets, making government more efficient," the recorder said. "In these economic times, that is important."

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

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1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

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