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Recorder candidate calls for audit, alleges missing revenue

By Whitney Evans, | Posted - Aug 20th, 2014 @ 8:16am

SALT LAKE CITY — A candidate for Salt Lake County recorder is calling for an audit, claiming the county is missing $1.75 million.

Mary Bishop, the Democratic candidate for county recorder who is seeking to unseat longtime incumbent Gary Ott, alleges the county has not accounted for $1.75 million in funds.

“I don’t have a reason why they’re down. I just know it’s not right at this point,” Bishop said.

County officials denied her claims, saying the discrepancy came from a combination of unmet projections and a struggling real estate market.

“That’s not, in my opinion, an accurate description of what’s happening here,” said Lance Brown, director of planning and budget in the Salt Lake County Mayor's Office. “The more accurate description would be that the downturn in recorder fees revenues is happening to other Wasatch Front counties, and the pattern is virtually identitical with what’s happening here in Salt Lake County.”

The county recorder makes money primarily from recording documents related to real estate transactions, including foreclosures, refinancings, reconveyances and warranty deeds.

I don't have a reason why they're down. I just know it's not right at this point.

–Mary Bishop

Revenue levels matched with previous years until late fall 2013, after original revenue projections were made for 2014, Brown said, when the recorder's office saw a "sharp decline" in revenue. The trend continued into 2014, and by June county officials saw the need to reduce the projected revenues by $1.75 million.

“In order to have missing revenue, we would have actually had to brought the revenue in and have it missing. The fact is there’s nothing to miss. All it is is projections, the same as any one of us would do for our households,” said Julie Dole, the county's chief deputy recorder.

Bishop said that reasoning is "disingenuous" and called for a transparent audit of the recorder's finances.

"It doesn't smell right," she said. "I just think it needs an audit. Period. Period."

According to Dole, the recorder's office is audited annually.

In addition to the $1.75 million drop, Bishop pointed to an overall decline in revenue.

"For a 12-year incumbent campaigning for re-election on a platform of fiscal conservancy and efficiency, who is touting his award as a Best of State Elected Official, I expect more, and so should every citizen and taxpayer in this county," Bishop said Tuesday.

County officials admitted they brought in less income than in the past, but they point to contributing factors such as reduction in home sales, second mortgages, home payoffs, foreclosures and rising median home prices. The dip in such transactions has led to a drop in the number of documents recorded. Ott has no control over those factors, Brown said.

In order to have missing revenue, we would have actually had to brought the revenue in. The fact is there’s nothing to miss.

–Julie Dole

“There’s nothing he can do about what’s happening there,” he said.

County recorder revenues are influenced by the housing market because every document recorded has a different fee, Dole said.

Among Bishop's other concerns is a possible impact the decrease in revenue could have on county programs, affecting aging services, public safety and public health.

Brown said those programs will not be affected. The county recorder's budget, while a significant source of income for the county, is one of more than 1,000 revenue-generating services, and it makes up only a fraction of the county's overall budget, he said.

The recorder's office often shares its income with other programs, according to Dole, but Brown insisted that the recorder's office "has no effect on other programs or services."

Brown also mentioned the county's AAA bond rating, which is possible because of its high reserve levels. This allows services to continue even if there is a dip in revenue, he said.

"We are well prepared for this sort of thing," Brown said.

Whitney Evans

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