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County consolidation breeds hyphens 

San Luis Obispo County took a step on July 9 to create the new office of auditor-controller-treasurer–tax collector–public administrator. SLO County plans to create the heavily hyphenated bureaucratic post by merging two existing financial offices.

The Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to move forward with the consolidation plan by amending various county ordinances. Supervisor Debbie Arnold dissented.

“Most importantly for me, it’s eliminating an elected official at a time when many people feel the government is becoming less accountable,” Arnold explained.

The argument in support of the plan involves cash. Consolidation would result in taxpayer savings of $174,000 in the first year and roughly $300,000 annually after three years. With SLO County struggling every year to keep a balanced budget, the prospect of a neat overhead trim appealed to some supervisors.

“I see it as necessary,” said Supervisor Adam Hill, who also refuted Arnold’s rationale for opposing the merger. “I don’t think there’s been an election for any of these offices in over a decade.”

The last contested election for either office—and the only one in at least 15 years—came in 2006 with the landslide reelection of Treasurer-Tax Collector-Public Administrator Frank Freitas.

Though the county staff report seems to favor consolidation, one former county financial officer wrote to the board about inviting a conflict of interest.

Retired Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector-Public Administrator Donna Morris wrote a May 9 letter to now-deceased board chair Paul Teixeira. In it, Morris worried that consolidation would cost the county its system of financial and procedural checks and balances.

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