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Clerk makes case for splitting office

Democrat Staff

Van Buren County needs two clerks to handle its business, the current clerk told the Clinton Area Rotary Club last week.

Ester Bass, who has been the county-circuit clerk for 10 years, said the the workload has quadrupled since he took office. He said the county has grown from a $4 million tax base to its current $25 million tax base. Van Buren County is the top county in the Fayetteville Shale play, and that adds to the workload as well.

The circuit court part of the job has grown with the court system getting hundreds of new cases a year, Bass said. Beginning in January, there will be two district judges and five circuit judges handling cases.

“It’s really hard for one person to wear all these hats,” Bass said. He said he is not asking to split the offices to benefit himself, but because he thinks that it would be best for the county.

Bass said the split would not cost taxpayers much more and said there is money available to the county that it does not get because it has only one clerk’s office.

He said the county has grown by almost 30 percent since 1999, and the tax base has grown by $21 million.

“Along with growth comes responsibilities,” Bass said. “I’m not gripping about my job, I love my job. But when I retire and (deputy clerk) Bobbye (Bennett) retires, and some of the others, this all gets dumped on one person and it’s going to be tough.”

Bass said the clerk’s office gets written up every year by the state auditor because of a shortage of manpower. The split, however, would not alleviate the workload. Except for a new elected official, staffing would remain the same, he said, but the responsibilities would be divided.

The county clerk position handles county business such as payroll, collecting child support, insurance matters, voter registration, and more. The circuit clerk position handles the court system.

County voters will decide the issue at the polls on Tuesday.

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