Staff Increase OK’d in County Clerk’s Office

An increase in staff for the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office – primarily to handle an increase in processing passports and concealed pistol license applications – was given final approval by county commissioners at their Aug. 7, 2013 meeting.

The change involves creating a full-time administrative coordinator position from a job that’s currently part-time (a 0.64 full-time equivalent position). The total cost for that full-time position is estimated at $56,902 – or an additional $15,631 in general fund support. It’s expected that a decrease in the need for temporary workers will help offset the payroll increase, as will a projected surplus in license and permit revenue. According to a staff memo, that revenue is expected to exceed projections by at least $33,824.

Until mid-2008, the office had 5 full-time employees (FTEs) in the elections and administration division, which handles passport applications and concealed pistol licenses (CPL). The economic downturn and subsequent restructuring dropped staffing levels to 3.64 FTE positions.

CPL applications increased 140% between 2009 to 2012, to an average 2,091 applications per year compared to 870 in 2009. This year is expected to set a record for CPL applications. For the first quarter of 2013 there were 1,168 applications, compared to 540 in the first quarter of 2012. [.pdf of application data from 2004-2013] [.pdf of approved licenses from 2008-2013]

If the total number of applications in 2013 reaches projections of at least 3,225, that will generate revenue of $83,824 to the general fund – above the original 2013 budget amount of $50,000.

In addition, on Aug. 7 commissioners gave final approval to shift support for one full-time position in the clerk/register of deeds office back into the general fund, at a cost of $56,117. That position – a records management specialist – is currently funded by revenues from the office’s “automation fund.” Until 2008, that position was paid for out of the general fund.

The automation fund pays for digitizing the county’s land records from 1824 through 1958, which are currently available only on paper. The goal is to relocate the paper records and clear out space in the lower level of 200 N. Main Street, as part of the county’s “space plan.” Digitization will also allow the public to search quickly and retrieve county records electronically, which will generate usage revenues for the general fund. Revenues for online usage increased from about $220,000 in 2010 to about $323,000 in 2012.

According to a staff memo, the number of documents recorded by the county clerk/register of deeds office has increased from fewer than 53,000 documents in 2008 to more than 85,000 documents expected in 2013. Revenues from the office to the general fund have grown from $2.248 million in 2011 to $3.198 million in 2012. Those revenues are expected to continue growing as the local real estate market recovers.

The staffing request had received initial approval at the board’s July 10, 2013 meeting. At that time, commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) had pointed out that this is the third time in 2013 that the board has been asked to approve an increase in staffing. In isolation, each increase makes sense, he said. But as the headcount changes over time, it’s troubling. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum responded, saying: “This doesn’t change headcount at all.”

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: : [link]