Cook County Clerk David Orr presented his 2008 budget recently to the County’s Finance Committee, stressing his office’s ongoing commitment to operational efficiency and election security.
Highlighting the Clerk’s spending plan is a 6 percent reduction in the office’s corporate budget, despite a 6.5 percent increase in personnel costs. Between 2004 and 2008, the Clerk’s corporate budget fell by 29% in inflation-adjusted dollars (22% in actual dollars), Orr said. This includes all divisions (tax and real estate, vital records, clerk of board and ethics) except elections, he noted.
“Our total budget for 2008 is $37 million. This includes both our election and corporate budgets,” Orr said. “That’s only about one percent of the entire county budget. Still, we are constantly striving to find the most efficient and cost-effective strategies for running elections and serving nearly a million customers who use our other divisions each year.”
“For the first time ever, 2008 fee revenues will exceed our corporate budget request,” Orr said. “These divisions are actually paying for themselves from fees generated by our office,” said Orr, whose responsibilities in addition to elections include birth, marriage and death records, marriage and business licenses, notaries, delinquent property taxes, tax rates, real estate maps and ethics filings.
Orr pointed out that the Clerk’s office has spent the past few years implementing automation projects resulting in lower costs and better customer service.
“By December 2008, these projects will have allowed us to eliminate 27 positions, nearly all through attrition. The automation projects will pay for themselves in just a few years,” Orr said.
Two key automation and efficiency projects in the Clerk’s office include:
Implementation of an office-wide biometric time and attendance project. The new system requires employees to swipe their hand across a palm reader when arriving or leaving the office. This results in more accurate time-keeping, and means less paperwork for supervisors.
Digitizing 23 million vital records. This has sped up customer service and protects birth, death and marriage records from floods and other hazards. The project will save $675,000 in annual staffing, operating and storage.
In addition to automation projects, major innovations in the Clerk’s office included top to bottom security systems for the elections warehouse.
The warehouse includes a computer system that manages and charges 5,000 touch screens, a high-tech security system to monitor the equipment 24-hours a day, and restricted access to the cages which house the equipment.
“Our Hawthorne Distribution Center is a high-tech facility that has added security measures to ensure ultimate protection of our election equipment,” Orr said.
When asked about the county’s need for additional revenue, Orr told the board that he agrees that more money is needed, particularly for the county’s health care system and for salary increases already given to non-union workers.
“The struggle over health care funds is a classic “which comes first” battle. While I believe significant reform over the management of the funds is warranted, I’m also acutely aware that people who need care are suffering at this very moment. That’s why, even though our budget makes up just 1 percent of the county’s budget, my office tries in its own way to cut staff, cut our budget and still, from what I can see, give very good service.”