Consolidation of county row offices going at snail's pace
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Allegheny County will take its next step in consolidating formerly elected row offices under the county executive Jan. 1, but the public will be hard pressed to notice any immediate difference.
"This is going to be a very gradual process," county Manager Jim Flynn said last week. "We don't want anything to disrupt the services we provide here, and for the most part, people will not immediately see the changes."
He said that with a little more than a month left for the county to consolidate functions of the prothonotary, clerk of courts and the register of wills into a centralized court records office, and to merge the recorder of deeds into the county's real estate division, much of the consolidation will most likely happen in name only.
That's because the county faces hurdles such as incorporating the staffs of the different offices, merging the various computer systems and adapting how each department reports its payroll and conducts other functions.
In 2005, Allegheny County voters approved the consolidation of the elected positions of register of wills, prothonotary, clerk of courts and jury commissioners into county's administration by creating on office of court records.
The voters also approved replacing the recorder of deeds with a real estate manager and the coroner with a medical examiner. The new positions will all be appointed rather than elected.
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato appointed a medical examiner two years ago, and the functions of the jury commissioner were seamlessly merged into the court administrative functions.
But the latest changes will not happen overnight, Mr. Flynn cautioned. Instead, he said, it "will be an ongoing process that will take at least a year or two before it is fully implemented."
It is moving at a snail's pace, he added, because of challenges for the consolidation, which Mr. Onorato pushed as both a cost-saving measure and a streamlining of services.
At the time, county officials touted the plan as a cost-saving measure that could yield the county almost $400,000 in savings. This year, the county hired a consultant, who will soon report his evaluation of the court record-keeping systems and will help determine how those functions will be merged under one department head.
The location of the consolidated offices also is to be determined. Court records are kept in offices on the first floor of the Allegheny County Courthouse and the City-County Building.
"Our goal is to increase the efficiency of county government, but right now we are looking at how this will work administratively," Mr. Flynn said.
In April, county Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty presented County Council with his plan of consolidation and forecast an initial savings of $750,000 to the county.
In his report, Mr. Flaherty also proposed a centralized customer service center for the court records office, which he recommended be housed on the first floor of the County Office Building on Ross Street.
So far, that idea is not practical, Mr. Flynn said. "Moving all of those offices into one location would be very difficult."
Given the Jan. 1, deadline, "things are going slower than we had hoped," Mr. Flynn said. He reiterated the county's position that projected savings from consolidation will be realized when the three remaining elected officials are placed under one department head, and their respective solicitors' offices are merged into the county's legal department.
What will not be a gradual process, however, is naming the person who will head the new court records office. Appearing on "KD/PG Sunday Edition" yesterday, Mr. Onorato said he plans to name a department head by the first week of December.
"I have a short list of a number of people," Mr. Onorato said. His short list, he said, includes some current county officials and some non-county officials. He is not considering a nationwide search.
One name that has been bandied around Grant Street circles and Allegheny County politicos is current county Clerk of Courts George Matta. Mr. Onorato has declined to confirm or speculate on his short list.
First Published November 26, 2007 12:00 am