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Here's why Cache County will split the clerk/auditor’s office in two

The Historic Cache County Courthouse, a red brick building, under a blue sky.

The Cache County clerk/auditor’s office will be split into separate agencies after County Council members narrowly voted to approve the split. Officials hope the bifurcation, which won’t happen until 2025, will provide additional accountability to the county’s finances.

Tuesday night, the council voted 4-3 to approve the split, with council members Barbara Tidwell, Sandi Goodlander, David Erickson and Nolan Gunnell approving the measure. Council members Karl Ward, Mark Hurd and Katheryn Beus voted in opposition. The vote followed weeks of discussion over whether to split the offices, with the council opting earlier this month to table the discussion until Tuesday.

The crux of the argument on either side of the split, like with many local government issues, is money.

In August, the council voted to overhaul its bookkeeping practices and move the accounting responsibilities from the county executive’s office to the clerk/auditor’s office. The shift was done in the weeks after the county learned it was at risk of losing around $500,000 in state grants, which was at risk due to a state audit in April alleging financial mismanagement within the Cache County Attorney’s Office.

During a work session earlier Tuesday, Amy Adams, the Cache County director of human resources, told the council that due to market adjustments and needed pay increases, the county’s budget may have a deficit of between $3 million and $7 million.

Adams’ presentation led Ward and other council members to worry whether the county would need to raise taxes or make cuts to services or personnel to make up for that gap.

Those fiscal worries were carried to the full council meeting, where council members discussed if separating the clerk/auditor’s office made sense financially, as it would require having two elected heads instead of one.

“Amy presented the budget issues regarding it, and yes, it would cost us more by separating it,” Ward said during the meeting. “We’re in a bit of a budget crisis as we stand, and adding to that, in my mind, isn’t wise.”

But Erickson, a supporter of the bifurcation, said splitting the offices would not only mean someone was dedicated to keeping a close eye over county audits, but now an elected official could specifically supervise the county’s finances.

“That’s one of the very reasons why I’m in favor of splitting is because then we have someone with the focus that we’ve shifted,” Erickson said, adding it would be better to have someone focus on, “the financial responsibilities we’re now sending to that auditor.”

Gunnell said he supported splitting the office in light of the accounting changes, as the split would allow an elected auditor to dedicate more time to the county’s finances.

The current Cache County Clerk/Auditor David Benson, who was appointed to the position by the local GOP in June, said during the meeting he initially wanted to keep the office together in order to keep things consistent and allow him to settle into the job. But since, he’s changed his mind, saying he believes it’s in the county’s best interest to separate the offices.

“It might as well be now so that we can start working with the new elected officials and with the separation of those two offices,” Benson said. “It might be a little rocky because of some of the changes we’ve made in the past, but I still that’s the better approach for the long term.”

Another concern was whether the auditor controlling county finances would also responsibly be able to audit the same books, though interim Cache County Attorney Dane Murray assured the council there were already measures in place to prevent someone from auditing the books they’re supposed to keep.

With the successful vote, the clerk/auditor’s office split will take effect on Jan. 6, 2025. The delay in the split is mandated by state law, which says a split must be enacted before Nov. 1 of the year before an election year where county officers are picked. Benson’s term is up for reelection in 2024.

Reporter Jacob Scholl covers northern Utah as part of a newly-created partnership between The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Public Radio. Scholl writes for The Tribune and appears on-air for UPR.