10:00 PM PST on Saturday, January 9, 2010

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County supervisors will consider a proposal Tuesday to turn the duties of treasurer-tax collector over to the auditor-controller’s office.

Combining the two independently elected positions would save up to $1 million a year at a time when the county is anticipating a large budget shortfall due to declining sales and property taxes, according to a report from Assistant County Administrator Dean Arabatzis.

The proposal has been harshly criticized by former Treasurer-Tax Collector Dick Larsen, who resigned in July after 11 years in the position. He called it a back-room deal that officials are trying to sneak by before the June election.

“This is to me another sign of the corruption in San Bernardino,” Larsen said. “This is one of the most egregious assaults on democracy I’ve ever seen.”

Larsen said the duties of auditor/controller, which involve accounting and financial oversight, and that of treasurer-tax collector, which involves collecting property taxes and overseeing a $4 billion investment pool, require different financial skills.

But Auditor/Controller Larry Walker said both offices include a wide range of duties that require a strong manager to oversee all those operations, instead of any single activity.

When Larsen resigned, he called for appointing his top deputy, Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector Annette Kerber, to replace him. She has been running the office since but the board has yet to discuss appointing anyone to the position.

Kerber, who did not return a call for comment Friday, has said she planned to run for treasurer-tax collector.

Larsen, who continues to maintain close contact with the office, said Kerber and others in the office did not hear of the proposal until Wednesday, and no in-depth study of the merger has been done.

With Larsen’s resignation before his term ended and the June election approaching, county officials have a small window of opportunity to make the change, county spokesman David Wert said.

“The voters are still going to have direct control over those functions,” Wert said, noting that the auditor/controller is also an elected office.

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