County Clerk Earl Bullock is bursting with pride. It seems that his department performed a rather rare task during the last fiscal year: It made money. Yes, profit-in county government. It almost sounds sinful.
The 1983 budget for the county clerk’s office was $4.1 million. The budget has stayed about even with inflation for almost 10 years. At the end of the 1983 fiscal year (October 1), the county was $114,000 in the black because of the money-saving tactics in Bullock’s department. The county clerk says that according to his records, the county hasn’t seen a profit in the department in recent history. Profit in any county department, in tact, is about as rare as an argument-free meeting at the Commissioner’s Court.
All this wasn’t accomplished by Bullock alone; some outside factors helped the situation. The biggest chunk of the county clerk’s budget goes to personnel, which was slightly cut back this year, and the allocations for salaries increased only slightly between fiscal 1982 and fiscal 1983. Usually, the increase is greater. Another factor is simply that the clerk’s office had a lot of business in 1983.
Any time that a citizen needs to record a document-birth certificate, death certificate, marriage license or deed-he must pay the clerk’s office to process and microfilm it. Last year, the average charge for this procedure (the fees vary depending on the document) was $5.16, but the county spends an average of $1.19 per transaction. In the past, this difference was used to cover other expenses in the department.
This was where Bullock shone. Although the office was operating with less than a full staff for much of the year, the county clerk and his crew kept up with the increased workload and actually improved productivity. Bullock says he accomplished this through “modernization”: He provided additional computerization to the criminal courts section and automated the recording department. He also says he motivated his employees-just like a real businessman wanting to turn a profit.
Unlike your average profit-hungry businessman, Bullock didn’t have his hands on the fruits of his labor for long. Every last nickel of that $114,000 went into the county’s general fund. But that doesn’t keep Bullock from dreaming. If he could channel those funds back into his department, he says he would computerize the county’s five civil courts (none have even so much as a bargain-basement personal computer) and financially reward his staff members for their efforts.