McHenry County Board chairman questions recorder's $2.4 million surplus

McHenry County Board chairman questions Tirio’s $2.4 million surplus

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks is calling for Recorder Joe Tirio to lower his office's automation fee by at least
25 percent.

Franks said he reviewed the recorder’s automation fund and found a surplus of $2.4 million.

"Taxing bodies have no reason to be sitting on piles of other people's money, especially given that the office of recorder will cease to exist in about
18 months," Franks said of the automation fund. "Overcharging taxpayers is the reason why Valley Hi Nursing Home, before I took office, ended up with an unthinkable four-year budget surplus. It's obvious that Tirio's office is charging people too much, and I'm calling on him to set this right."

Tirio, who ran for his job on a platform that he would eliminate the recorder’s office, said he already is on the job.

“We’re in the midst of doing that work right now,” Tirio said, highlighting a fee study the County Board approved him to undertake last year.

That fee study began at the end of March and is expected to end in August, he said, and it likely will result in a reduction of those fees.

The automation fund – a bank of fees from residents filing documents such as deeds – stood at about $2.1 million when Tirio took office in December 2016.

It has since grown by more than $300,000 – a spike Tirio credits, in part, to better interest rates at the bank.

An additional $233,000 was spent on four employees Tirio is compensating from the fund. Before Tirio took office, those employees had been paid out of the county’s general fund.

“My head count has gone down,” Tirio said. “I changed what fund those people were getting paid from.”

Tirio characterized the fee study as a way to build a new model for charging residents inside the recorder’s office. Today, they are charged by the page, no matter what kind of document they need recorded. The new model – in theory, Tirio said – would charge based on document type, not length.

“We’re going to come up with a single fee for these different document fees,” Tirio said.

Regarding the mountain of money sitting in the bank, Tirio said most of that cash was there when he took office. He said the money funded the way his predecessor managed digital records.

“There was a server room with all of its own infrastructure,” Tirio said. “I stopped using that model of tech support. We migrated our storage to the county network, which is far more economical.”

To Franks, Tirio is overcharging residents.

“Government should not be in the business of making money off of its citizens. It’s a not-for-profit enterprise,” Franks said. “I find it unconscionable that, while we’re looking to cut our budget, county Recorder Joe Tirio has been growing a fund that already had more than $2 million in it, for an office he pledged to the voters he would eliminate.”

Voters in the March primary approved a referendum to merge the office with the county clerk’s when Tirio’s term expires in December 2020.

Franks said he found the surplus when searching the county budget for tax savings in the 2019 budget. He is asking Tirio for his office to stop to support a resolution to slash the $13 automation fee, which is charged for the recording of most documents.

Although the fee likely will be lowered, Tirio said, “it is not realistic” to think it will be lowered by as much as 25 percent.

“Why do you need a fee study? It’s really a question of are you going to keep overcharging the taxpayers or no?” Franks said. “If he doesn’t bring the resolution, I am.”

Tirio said Franks “needs to worry about his own ship.”

“While I appreciate Jack’s interest in watching the county’s purse strings, perhaps he should be reminded that I spearheaded the effort to eliminate my role, I have reduced staff costs considerably, voluntarily passed on the pension and have been working on revising our fee structure since late March,” Tirio said. “Jack, on the other hand, has increased his staff by two positions that apparently weren’t necessary until he took office. ... I challenge Jack to look within his own department to lead by example and cut his costs by 10 percent.”