SLO County Clerk-Recorder could scale back in North County

ATASCADERO —North County builders are concerned that proposed administrative changes for the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder office, going before the County’s Board of Supervisors as early as May 7, will have negative effects for services in Atascadero.

The Clerk-Recorder’s branch, upstairs from the Atascadero Library at 6565 Capistrano Ave., may have its two on-duty staffers transferred to San Luis Obispo to shore up operations as Clerk of the Board duties are absorbed by the County’s Administrative Services Office, the County’s elected Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong said last week.

Plans for how his office will deal with the changes were far from set in stone, he added, but the most logical choice from a budget standpoint was to move the two staff members, who together represent 10 percent of his permanent workforce, to replace the clerks who usually fulfilled desk duties in the San Luis Obispo office when they’re not working on minutes for the Board’s biweekly meetings.

Filings which must be handled in person include items the construction industry from Creston to Santa Margarita rely on, Cordelia Perry, of the nonprofit SLO County Builders Exchange said.

Aside from the many hours of research she conducts on the County’s database access terminal, which could continue without staff presence, she adds that notices of project completion, filing of and releasing of mechanics liens cannot be done online.

One alternative Gong suggests is to use the services of electronic title filing companies, but a call to the largest such provider in SLO County revealed that, while the process is streamlined on the County’s side, the Utah-based service primarily licenses only with bonded financial institutions.

That would leave roughly half of the Builders Exchanges’ 500 members making trips down the Cuesta Grade to the City of San Luis Obispo to conduct business unless they have an arrangement with a title and loan company which subcontracts the filings.

From a purely budget perspective, Gong said, he can’t afford to expend as many resources on a revenue stream that only amounts to just over two percent of fees generated. General foot traffic from the public is not a significant portion of the office’s use, he adds, and he’s making a real effort to publicize the availability of those general services — birth certificates and other document ordering and licenses — on the Recorder’s office website.

And, contrary to the information on flyer’s circulated by the Builders Exchange, the closure is not a permanent proposition.  During election season temporary staffers boost his ranks and they’ll be able to handle foot traffic once again.

“The County owns the building so we’re not going anywhere,” he said, noting that the Property and Tax Assessor, as well as County Planning, maintain staff in the building. Staff could return if the funds are found elsewhere.

Which raises another point, local businessman Geoff Auslen said, when addressing the Atascadero City Council on the matter during their April 23 meeting, “County Planning and Building closed their public office hours a little over a year ago without saying a word. We pay our taxes. I know how much I pay personally and for my business, we shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens in the North County.”

The Exchange encouraged people to “make some noise,” by calling County Supervisors Debbie Arnold and John Peschong as well as the Mayors and City Councils of Atascadero and Paso Robles.

After Auslen and Perry’s public comments Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno noted that she’s already drafted and sent off a letter to the County and encouraged any local officials who were similarly perplexed by the proposal to do the same.

Gong was reported to be in ongoing discussions with staff about the possibility of part-time hours at the Atascadero location as a compromise, but he was also thinking of a silver lining to the imposed staff reduction.

“San Luis Obispo was one of the very few counties whose Clerk of the Board was still in the Clerk-Recorder office. It works well in small-to-medium-size counties but we have an opportunity now,” he said, “without handling the Board duties there’s no reason we have to be located downtown in the Government Center. If people are having trouble coming to see us, finding parking, I know how difficult that is, maybe we can find an easier more central location for the entire office.”

Residents in cities to the south of San Luis Obispo all the way to Nipomo, have long complained of the drive into the Government Center as well, he added.


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