GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - A bill introduced by Grand Junction State Rep. Ray Scott (R) would do away with the office of public trustee in Mesa and El Paso counties, and transfer those duties to the county treasurer - in an attempt, he said, to save taxpayer money.
The lawmaker appears misinformed, however, as to how the office is funded.
"Public trustees are appointed by the governor and serves by his will, but at county's expense," Scott told the Free Press.
Scott went on to say: "The county pays $72,000 (for the public trustee salary) plus expenses. The county pays the salary, and all expenses - office, phone, janitor, staff."
That is not the case, said current Mesa County Public Trustee Mike Moran.
"It's almost the opposite," Moran said. "We pay the county."
The public trustee office is fully self-supported by fees it charges to banks and other lenders for requested services provided by the public trustee. Those services include releasing deeds of trust, and administering and processing foreclosures.
Colorado Revised Statutes clearly state in title 38, article 38, that the office's salaries and expenses are paid from fees collected by the public trustee, and that any excess funds be given to the county in which the public trustee operates.
In August, after moving from an independent office on Main Street to the old county courthouse, 544 Rood Ave., the public trustee also began paying rent to the county.
"Why does Ray Scott target his own county when he's never even come to talk to the public trustee?" Moran asked.
Former public trustee Paul Brown also said Scott never visited his office before Brown left the position in August.
Moran said he'd like Scott to come visit his office and learn firsthand what he and his staff do. The public trustee's office employs four full-time, and one part-time as needed, employee.
House Bill 1049 would change Mesa County from a second- to third-class county, a class that does not require a separate public trustee office.
Other class two counties with public trustee offices - Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld - are not mentioned in the bill.
A separate bill by State Sen. Kent Lambert (R) would eliminate all 10 public trustee offices.
In the other 52 Colorado counties where the population is smaller, foreclosures are fewer and the workload is less, the county treasurer performs public trustee duties.
Both Moran and Brown said they don't see how the treasurer's office could take on the duties of public trustee without hiring additional county employees.
"If the treasurer feels they can absorb the work, either they misunderstand the work we have or they're overstaffed and maybe they should look at becoming more efficient," Moran said.
Mesa County Treasurer Janice Rich said she hasn't yet had a conversation with the county commissioners to learn what it would look like if the bill became law, and "whether the staff would be expanded."
"It's still so new. I haven't developed an opinion about that," Rich said. "I have no comment right now."
Colorado's unique public trustee system was established in 1894, in response to abuses of Coloradan's property rights during the Panic of 1893, an era of economic depression.
A public trustee is a neutral party that protects the rights of both borrowers and lenders - a protection that continues to be important today, Moran said.
"If you didn't have the public trustee office, there'd just be the bank/lender," Moran said. "We make sure if a lender wants to foreclose on a party that they have the right."
The public trustee reviews foreclosure filings for completeness and compliance with state law, and ends up rejecting several initial filings each week.
Lenders must prove a borrower is in default on their loan, and that they are, in fact, the correct entity to foreclose. Problems sometimes occur after loans are acquired by other lenders, Moran said.
"We have more trades of loans now than we had 100 years ago," Moran said.
The public trustee office also protects the lender by holding borrowers' deeds of trust until the loan is paid off.
In other states, during the foreclosure process, lenders hire attorneys to ensure their rights to foreclose are respected. Borrowers must work through the courts at their own expense or rely on a public trustee hired by the bank.
For a detailed explanation of public trustee duties, plus revenue sources and expenses of the office, visit www.mesacounty.us/publictrustee and click on 2013 Budget Message.