Crow Wing County Consolidation to Cut Costs

Continues statewide trend of combining county auditor and treasurer offices

No matter who prevails in the election to become Crow Wing County Auditor in November, Brainerd lakes area taxpayers have already won. Crow Wing County Commissioners voted recently to eliminate the county treasurer office and combine it with the county auditor office, streamlining operations and saving an estimated $140-150,000 in the process.

“It’s not just cheaper, it’s also better,” Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle told the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. “Cheaper is not the only reason to do it. We can also provide a higher quality of service as a one-stop shop.”

Under current law, the county auditor collects past due taxes and the county treasurer collects current year taxes, among other duties. If residents want to pay both past due and current taxes, they must go to both the auditor’s and treasurer’s offices, deal with two separate staffs and write two separate checks to satisfy their tax bill, according to county officials.

“With the economic times we’re in, we have to look at a lot of different ways of doing business,” said Deborah Erickson, Crow Wing County Auditor. “One of the things that has to be considered is the traditional silos in government coming down.”

The proposed consolidation will establish one office for county tax matters. Besides eliminating the elected position of county treasurer, the plan will cut two staff positions in the combined offices and the need for part-time help, according to Houle.

“Right now, we’re looking at, with business as usual, a $3.5 million deficit in 2011,” Erickson said. “We have to start looking at everything on the table.”

Crow Wing would become the 62nd of Minnesota’s 87 counties to consolidate the offices of auditor and treasurer. In 1986 Crow Wing County voters defeated a proposal to consolidate the two offices, but the law now gives the county commissioners authority to do so. 

Not everyone is on board with the consolidation, though.“I do not think that combination is a good idea for this county,” said Crow Wing County Treasurer Laureen Borden. “At the present time, we have two offices that work well together under direction of two trained elected officials.”

Borden is currently in the process of gathering signatures on a reverse referendum petition that would place the consolidation issue on the ballot.The consolidation will take effect in January, 2011, unless opponents gather signatures on a petition from ten per cent (approximately 3,600 voters) of the electorate who voted in the last general election by April 23rd.

Laureen Borden has served as Crow Wing County Treasurer since 1986, while Deborah Erickson has served as Crow Wing County Auditor since 2006.Candidates interested in vying for the position of county auditor can file to run in May.

Tips, comments or suggestions? Contact Tom Steward, FFM Investigative Director. 952-451-3684.

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