Two persons who are both well known community figures are on the ballot in the August 5 County General Election for the position of Register of Deeds.
One is Debbie Morris, the incumbent, who has held the position for six terms. She is a resident of Woodbury and a Cannon County native.
The other is Greg Mitchell, a current Cannon County Commissioner who works as Maintenance Supervisor for the Woodbury Housing Authority. He is also pastor for Center Hill Baptist Church.
The Tennessee Constitution provides for each county to have a register, elected for a term of four years. Any county resident over the age of 18 who is not otherwise disqualified from holding public office (by virtue of certain criminal convictions or other legal disqualifications) may seek the office of register. No educational or experience requirements apply to the office.
The register is elected by popular vote at the regular August election occurring every four years coinciding with the governor’s election and takes office on September 1 following the election, upon receiving the proper certificate of election, being officially bonded as required by law, and taking the required oath of office. Failure to take and file the proper oath and bond is a misdemeanor offense.
The most important function of the register’s office is the filing or recording of documents that affect the legal status of real and personal property. With regard to real property, these documents include deeds, deeds of trust (mortgages), financing statements called fixture filings under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), assignments, plats, court decrees, leases, liens, releases, and many other instruments.
With regard to personal property, the most important documents have been financing statements under the UCC and instruments relating to financing statements, such as amendments and termination statements; however, most of these UCC documents are now filed with the secretary of state and not with the register. Powers of attorney are often recorded in the register’s office. Also, some official documents (county official bonds and certain official reports) are recorded or filed in the register’s office.
The register notes in a notebook (or its electronic equivalent) the time and receipt of each document in the order received and maintains indexes of the records of the office. The register must be familiar with the requirements for acceptance applicable to each document. The prerequisites for acceptance of a document vary with the type of document. It is important to remember that a register is not a notary and does not have a statutory power to take acknowledgments, as do county clerks.
The register has important revenue functions, both for the collection of fees for performing the duties of the office (most of which are found in T.C.A. § 8-21-1001) and collection of two state privilege taxes- the transfer tax and the “mortgage” tax (a tax on recording documents evidencing an indebtedness). Currently, the state realty transfer tax is 37 cents per $100 of value or consideration, and the “mortgage” tax is 11.5 cents per $100 or major fraction thereof over $2,000 of indebtedness.
The register must be knowledgeable concerning the many special rules and exceptions that apply to the collection of these taxes. Also, the register must be knowledgeable about the required statements on instruments evidencing transfers of real estate or certain interests in real estate and instruments of indebtedness.
Since office management is an important component of the register’s duties, registers should know about personnel procedures and both state and federal laws. Also, the register should have a basic understanding of potential liability, including both personal liability and county liability, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act.
Deputies and Assistants
The number and salaries of deputies and assistants may be determined by decree of chancery court; alternatively, if the register is under the budget system and agrees with the budget adopted by the county legislative body, by entering into a letter of agreement with the county mayor; or, if on the fee system the register may enter into a letter of agreement with the county mayor. Under both alternatives, the register would avoid a salary suit.
The minimum compensation of the register is set by Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.) § 8-24-102, and is based on county population. The county legislative body may set the salary for general officers of the county (which includes the register) at an amount greater than the statutory minimum. The register’s minimum salary is adjusted each year to reflect changes in state employee compensation. The University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) annually publishes a minimum salary schedule for registers and other officials.
Fee or Non-Fee Office
Two basic methods exist for using and accounting for fees received by the register. Under the oldest system, called the “fee system,” the register remits to the county trustee on a quarterly basis all of the fees, commissions, and charges collected in the preceding quarter in excess of the salaries of the deputies and assistants, the necessary expenses of the office, and the register’s salary.
Under this system the register may retain fees in an amount equal to three times the official’s monthly salary and the deputies’ and assistants’ salaries. If the fees collected by the register are insufficient to pay all of the salaries and office expenses, the county legislative body must make up the shortfall. Under the old system, the county legislative body does not need to appropriate funds for the salaries and office expenses unless the fees are inadequate.
The county legislative body may adopt an alternative system for the register. Under this system, called the “budget system” or “salary system,” all of the fees, commissions, and charges collected by the office (other than revenue reported to and submitted to the state) are turned over to the county trustee on a monthly basis. The county legislative body authorizes the trustee to pay the register’s salary, the salaries of the deputies and assistants, and the authorized office expenses monthly from the general fund.
Under this system, the county legislative body must appropriate funds for the official’s salary, deputies’ and assistants’ salaries, and other office expenses regardless of the fees remitted by the office. Under both systems, the fees remitted to the trustee become part of the county general fund and may be appropriated for any proper county purpose.