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County merges auditor-treasurer

In a bid to streamline county government, the Becker County Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to merge the positions of county auditor and county treasurer into that of auditor-treasurer.

It will remain an elected position, and will be on the ballot in November.

County Treasurer Ryan Tangen has already said he plans to run for the auditor-treasurer job.

County Auditor Keith Brekken, who sparked the departmental merger with plans to retire this year, will serve out his term of office, which ends Jan. 31.

Under the resolution, the auditor-treasurer will be responsible for duties established under state law for the auditor and treasurer.

Fifty-three of the state's 87 counties have switched to an auditor-treasurer system, according to Brekken.

"I think it's an absolutely perfect idea to combine those offices, and a lot of counties have done that," said Commissioner Harry Salminen. "But I do have a problem with it not being appointed."

Salminen said he has no problem with Tangen serving in the position, but an unqualified person could run and be elected, causing serious financial problems for the county.

If the board appointed the position, as it does with other major departments like Human Services and Highway, it could be assured of hiring a qualified department head, he said.

Commissioners aren't necessarily qualified for the job, he conceded, but with five of them they serve as checks and balances on each other, Salminen said.

"We have to put our faith in the voters now," said Commissioner Barry Nelson. "When our voters want it to be appointed, it should be appointed."

Commissioner Bob Bristlin agreed.

"Everybody who's spoken to me about this thinks the timing is right," said Board Chairwoman Karen Mulari.

The move is a step forward for Becker County, said Commissioner Larry Knutson.

"We're streamlining government to make it more customer-friendly," Mulari added.

The county board has the authority to consolidate the positions, though the action had to be approved by at least 80 percent of commissioners and the position must remain elected, County Administrator Brian Berg said earlier.

The board action Tuesday could be put to a public referendum if 10 percent or more of county voters in the last election sign a petition asking for that.

The board did not have authority to make the position appointive. That would have required special legislative permission or a referendum vote, Berg said.

The board vote Tuesday followed a positive recommendation from a committee set up earlier in the month to study the consolidated position.