McDonald's doesn't make you go to the counter to buy a Big Mac, hop into your car to purchase fries at the drive-through window, then cruise up the road to another location to pick up a Coke.
But Douglas County Clerk Tom Cavanaugh said local governments require residents and businesses to waste time running between offices to deal with real estate matters.
"Navigating this local government maze dealing with real property business matters has become cluttered, confusing, duplicative — and anything but easy and efficient," Cavanaugh said in a letter to local elected officials this week.
Cavanaugh urged the officials to begin talking about consolidating real estate services. The letter went to other county officials, Omaha city government leaders and the heads of local public utilities, among others.
The goal is to reduce costs and provide more convenience to the public, Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh said he can envision a one-stop service center where people can file their deeds, pay their property taxes and obtain building permits.
In addition, he said, it may make sense to consolidate record-keeping duties for real estate ownership, valuations and tax bills.
Cost savings could come as workers are cross-trained to handle multiple tasks now performed in separate offices, Cavanaugh said. Fewer employees would be needed overall, he said.
Some potential changes might require approval from the Nebraska Legislature, he said. State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha has said mergers and consolidations of local government services would become a top priority in the next session.
Since he became clerk in 1986, Cavanaugh often has championed changes — with mixed success — in the way local government is organized.
In the early 1990s, Cavanaugh successfully pushed to consolidate motor vehicle titles, taxes and registrations into a single office. He said the change reduced staffing needs and made the process easier for vehicle owners.
But Cavanaugh's proposal in 1995 to merge his office with the county register of deeds was rebuffed.
Now, he said, it's time to take another look at consolidating staff and resources that provide real estate services.
"We need to identify what cost savings would be realized," Cavanaugh said. "It would not be change for change sake. This is just the beginning of getting the discussions going."
County Board Chairwoman Mary Ann Borgeson said she's willing to organize a panel of officials, taxpayers and professionals to brainstorm ideas.
"It's a good idea," she said. "Everybody knows the old norm is not the new norm anymore. The timing, to me, is good because of the economy and our financing situation."
Cavanaugh's plan comes as both the City of Omaha and Douglas County have grappled with funding shortfalls in recent years.
In 2010, both governments approved property tax increases. This year, the county has voted to maintain its tax rate, and Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle this week proposed no change in the property tax rate.
However, County Finance Director Joe Lorenz has predicted that revenue projections may remain stagnant for several years, forcing the county to re-evaluate its spending priorities.
County Board member P.J. Morgan, who wants the county to find $10 million in spending cuts in its 2012-13 budget, said Cavanaugh's concept deserves review.
"Hey, I'm open-minded. It's always good to explore options," said Morgan, who runs his own real estate company. "I am sure we will be talking about its pluses and minuses."
However, Morgan said he would not support a reorganization unless significant cost savings are attained.
"We have to be careful and cautious so we are not creating any new spending," he said.
County Assessor Roger Morrissey said he needs to learn more details.
"I can't really comment without knowing the specifics," he said. "Our office is proud of the efforts we have made over the years to use technology to make information about our real property values more accessible to taxpayers."
Nonetheless, Morrissey indicated he wants to participate in the discussion.
"We're certainly willing to talk about improving the process, given the current and future legislative mandates and lack of staff and funding for our office," he said.
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