By NIKKI YOUNK
CRYSTAL FALLS - Iron County is continuing to research the possibility of consolidating its clerk and register of deeds positions in time for the 2016 general election.
At a public hearing on Wednesday, the current clerk and register of deeds voiced their concerns about the issue to the Iron County Board of Commissioners.
Iron County Clerk Joan Luhtanen said that even with technological advances, her staff's work load has increased over the years.
"The state and federal election agencies are demanding more and more layers of reporting, and also requiring the county clerks to do more work than in the past," she explained.
Newer duties include teaching election inspector classes, reporting election results in a timeline specified by the state, and implementing an election finance program that tracks finances of local candidates.
Luhtanen worried that adding the register of deeds' duties to the clerk's office might cause staff to have less time to help residents.
In addition, she asked the board where it plans to locate a consolidated clerk/register of deeds office. The current offices are not near each other.
"So I believe, prior to the board deciding if consolidation should occur, it would be prudent and beneficial to research how consolidation will be accomplished," said Luhtanen.
Iron County Register of Deeds Joetta Grieg asked the board why it was considering consolidation now, since a future board could easily reverse the decision before it would take effect at the beginning of 2017.
The next county board elections will be in November 2014.
Civil counsel Steve Tinti confirmed that a new board in 2015 could change the current board's decision. However, the new board would have to go through the same process to do so.
That process involves holding at least one public hearing, making a decision on the issue between 10 and 30 days after the final public hearing, and requiring a supermajority approval of the board.
Tinti and Iron County Administrator Sue Clisch pointed out some arguments in favor of consolidation. They noted that Iron County's population is decreasing, and that most counties in the Upper Peninsula already have consolidated clerk/register of deeds offices.
Commissioner Jim Brennan was also in favor of consolidation. He said that if a decision is made now, there will be more time to prepare for the change.
Board Chair Carl Lind said that if consolidation does occur, he hopes the board in charge will not lay off any employees.
The board approved to adjourn the public hearing without making a decision on the issue.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.