ST. LOUIS ( -- Judging by the tattered pink chairs, most of Michael Butler's office furniture comes from the previous St. Louis Recorder of Deeds.

But he's not renovating his own office. Instead, he is planning for a future City Hall lounge for residents.

“It's all about access, just like a T-Mobile store or a Capitol One bank. We called it a lounge because we want it to be comfortable, like a hotel lounge, we want them feel like customers, like they deserve,” said Butler, the city's current Recorder of Deeds.

When he took over in 2019, Butler said he wanted better access to the office for residents, both online and in-person.

Right now, marriage, death, birth and land records are all in separate, divided rooms.

His plan combines them in one comfortable space.

"They can sit down and grab a cup of coffee and then we will come to them, they won't come to us,” Butler said.

He recently sent out a mailer announcing the expanded hours, the online access and the upcoming renovations.

“I don't think government mailers should be ugly and be something that folks will throw in the trash,” Butler said.

But Butler's not the only one re-doing things. Just down the hall, there is another a big makeover, although License Collector Mavis Thompson did not respond to our multiple requests for comment about it.

Over the summer St. Louis county officials announced they too were renovating the lobby of the county government building, removing obsolete escalators to create a customer service center; a one-stop shop for county business. It will be better during the COVID-crisis, officials said, and beyond.

“There is much more room in that lobby to have that social distancing that needs to occur,” said Deanna Venker with St. Louis County.

But Patrick Ishmael of the Show Me Institute said now is not the time for changes.

“The idea that City Hall is going to be changing the drapes while folks are out of work and struggling and local government is making it harder for them to live their lives. I think they will have some real serious and hard questions,” said Ishmael.

Instead, he said the money could be better spent elsewhere, or even given back to the taxpayers.

But Butler said the changes are needed and he believes they are important

“I understand the long term and the short term, but we have to do this,” he said.

Total cost for Butler's upgrades is around $400,000.

So where's the money coming from?

Butler said there's a surplus of a technology fee tacked on to services, mandated by a state statute, for improvements just like this.

“I personally cannot cut the technology fee, but it’s time to make the investment, because at the end of the day, it’s going to save our customers money,” said Butler.

And in the end, he says it will be money well spent.

“As a young elected official, I want City Hall to reflect the world as it is today, and I think customers want to see that as well,” he explained.

Butler hopes to have the lounge complete by spring, although he said many more people are accessing records online now.

The county's renovation cost about $570,000. Of that, $150,000 was paid for with pandemic funding.

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