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Merced County shuffles duties of auditor-controller

Beginning in January, Merced County elections will no longer be overseen by the county’s auditor-controller.

Under a major restructuring plan approved this week by the Board of Supervisors, the county’s elected treasurer-tax collector, Karen Adams, will take over as the county’s top elections official. Starting Jan. 5, 2009, her office will be responsible for organizing and putting on all local elections.

As it stands now, the county’s elected auditor-controller, Stephen Jones, serves as the county’s top elections official. He will retire in January.

The restructuring plan, approved Tuesday, redistributes responsibilities among three county elected officials. No employees will lose their jobs as a result of the changes, though dozens will be reporting to new supervisors.

Under the plan the auditor-controller will no longer handle elections, property recordings or revenue and reimbursement functions. The auditor also will no longer serve as county clerk.

The county’s elected assessor will assume responsibility for the recorder’s office. The treasurer-tax collector will oversee elections and the revenue and reimbursement department. She also will become the county clerk.

“What it boils down to is efficiency,” county spokesman Mark Hendrickson said. “We think this makes better business sense and, ultimately, it will help us to serve the public better.”

County officials said they began discussing a reorganization of a handful of county departments a few months ago with the goal of unloading from the auditor-controller several extra jobs that have been piled onto that office over the last 13 years or so. The county’s last auditor took over clerk and elections duties in 1995 when the then-clerk died in office.

“What was meant to be a temporary fix turned into something a lot more,” Hendrickson said. “We decided it’s time to finally remedy that.”

The county planned the restructuring to coincide with Jones’ retirement and the appointment of a new auditor-controller, officials said.

In January the auditor-controller’s staff will decrease from 67 to 25 people. The assessor’s staff will increase from 39 to 53 employees. The treasurer-tax collector’s staff will increase from 12 to 40.

For taking on the new duties, Adams, the treasurer-tax collector, will get a 20 percent raise. The assessor, Kent Christensen, will get a 10 percent raise. So will the assistant treasurer-tax collector and the assistant assessor.

“I’m excited, and I’m up to the new challenges,” Adams told the board at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting.

Officials said the changes shouldn’t affect public services. “If anything, they’ll improve,” Hendrickson said. “That’s the whole point.”