What's on the County Ballot? Part II
Find out more about the offices you'll soon be voting to fill in Montgomery County.
Many voters only head for the polls when a high-profile office like the governor or the presidency is on the ballot, but many other important jobs are filled during elections. When you go in the voting booth on Nov. 8, you should have a good understanding about the positions you are voting on and why.
This is the second installment in our two-part series on the elected positions of Montgomery County that will be filled at the Nov. 8 election. To first catch up on the first part of the series, click here.
In Montgomery County, the prothonotary is the civil clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. This person is mainly responsible for recording the happenings in the courtroom and tracking all civil procedures. The prothonotary "signs and seals all writs and processes numerous other documents of the Court of Common Pleas," according to the county’s website.
The office is responsible for such filings and recordings of documents from cases involving matters like personal injury, malpractice, divorce, custody, protection from abuse, judgments, change of name, school audits, driver’s license suspension appeals, District Justice appeals, mechanics’ liens, federal income tax liens, administrators of oaths and affirmations, according to the site.
County residents who travel internationally have probably dealt with the prothonotary’s office at some point since it also processes U.S. passport applications.
The word “prothonotary” comes from the Greek “protonotarios,” meaning “first scribe.” The job title has been used in various senior clerical and civil positions since late Roman times.
Recorder of Deeds
Next on the ballot, you will see the “Recorder of Deeds” for Montgomery County. According to the county’s website, the Recorder of Deeds is tasked with maintaining “the integrity of all land records and other documents entrusted to the department, as well as the collection and monthly distribution of county and state fees and Real Estate transfer taxes for the state, township, borough and school districts.” The office must also keep the public informed with “complete accountability and responsibility.”
Unlike most of county government, the office of the Recorder of Deeds does not use tax revenue to function. It is a self-sufficient office that generates its own profit for the Montgomery County General Fund, according to Nancy J. Becker, the county’s current Recorder of Deeds.
Register of Wills
The county’s Register of Wills is not as simple a job as it sounds. This person is tasked with much more than probating wills and processing “intestate estates” (or those estates without wills). In addition, the role serves as an agent for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to collect the state’s inheritance taxes. He or she also issues the necessary “transfer of estate assets” documents, as well.
The Register of Wills also serves as Clerk of the Orphans’ Court. Again, the simplicity of the name may confuse residents. In this capacity, the office issues marriage licenses and handles orphans’ court dockets. Petitions for adoptions are also filed with the Register of Wills.
Genealogists and those researching their ancestry may be interested to learn that from 1893 to 1915, the Register of Wills kept all birth records for county residents. Records from that era are still available at the county level. After 1915, responsibility for these “vital records” was transferred to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Montgomery County has elected a Sheriff every four years since 1789.
As authorized by the state Constitution, the Sheriff serves as the “chief law enforcement officer in the County.” Many county residents may be confused about the authority of the sheriff’s role, given the high visibility of the local and state police forces. The sheriff’s jurisdiction overlaps those bodies, giving the office “broad powers” that “authorize her and her deputies to enforce the law.”
Instances in which the sheriff may be called upon include “riots, prison breaches, strikes and other emergencies which are or may be a breach of the peace,” according to the department’s web site. During those times, the sheriff is “empowered to call upon all able-bodied adults” or in other words may deputize necessary persons to assist in maintaining the order.
More common duties include the service of all writs, both criminal and civil in the courts of the county, transferring prisoners throughout the state or extraditions to other states for court and the issuing of permits for firearms, conducting the sale of real and personal property in a city, county or state. It’s in this last capacity that the Sheriff’s office serves eviction notices and conducts auctions of foreclosed properties.
Additionally, the sheriff’s office is responsible for programs such as the bomb disposal unit, the County Response Emergency Team (CERT), five Driving Under the Influence (DUI) processing centers, TRIAD for senior citizens and DARE for school-aged children. The sheriff is also the major sponsor for Camp Cadet, open to county children aged 12 to 15.
Chances are, if you’ve needed to apply for a dog license, a gaming license, hunting or fishing license, you already are familiar with the Treasurer’s services in Montgomery County. Many of the applications may now be done online, like applying for your dog’s license in this state.
The Treasurer, however, is also in charge of the county’s funds as an overall “custodian.” Payments of county taxes, fees, state and federal grants or other monies the county receives are received and deposited by the Treasurer, according to the county’s website.
This office is responsible for the collection of the two percent hotel room occupancy tax for the county’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. They also are responsible for paying for all County obligations (i.e. the “bills”) and handle the county’s investments.
The Treasurer, according to the county’s site, also must serve as the chairman for the County Investment Board, the treasurer for the Employees’ Retirement System and be a member of the County’s Depository Board.