Weakley County Election Commission Chairman Wayne Chester and Administrator of Elections Barbara Castleman
The expanded budget for this busy major election year was the contentious subject of a meeting of the Weakley County Election Commission held last week in Dresden.
Administrator of Elections Barbara Castleman presented a budget request proposal for fiscal year 2012-2013 of $219,758, an increase of $138,694 over this year’s budget estimate. That increase is due in large part to the expenses expected from running two elections in the fiscal year beginning in July: a county election and state primary Aug. 2 and a major general election, including this year’s presidential race, Nov. 6.
The total did not include changes in employee benefits, which had not yet been figured. “Really, whatever the budget is, there’s going to be some added to it,” said Castleman.
Castleman noted that, while large compared with most Election Commission budgets, her proposal was in line with the $203,434 incurred during the last major election year, fiscal year 2008-09. She identified the $16,324 increase over the last four years as being due to the rising costs of materials and services, mandatory compliance with new voter laws, and the need for legal services.
Castleman explained in general how she arrived at the numbers. “I figured up pretty much how much we spent this year, in March, and I doubled it for two more elections plus added a little bit to it because I feel like we’ll have more of everything for the presidential election in November.”
Commissioner Ray Stevenson identified an incorrect transcription in the proposal for the election workers budget line. That line was corrected to read $35,000, an increase of $23,331 over last year’s. Castleman explained the increase.
“What I’m planning on doing is, for the November election—we’ve been having with these other elections two registrars and two machine operators. I’m going to have three registrars and three machine operators because I think that’s going to be big.”
Castleman also revealed plans to rotate in new election workers in August so that they could gain experience before November.
The line for legal services, originally $10,000 in Castleman’s proposal, garnered the most debate in Wednesday’s meeting.
Election Commission chairman Wayne Chester began by questioning Castleman’s allocation based on the current need for transfers in legal services with law suits pending. A resolution requesting a transfer of funds for legal services in this fiscal year is expected on May 19 at the county commission.
“Supposing that that is the line you will have to transfer money into, from what line will you draw the money from?” Chester said. Castleman admitted that she did not know.
“I understand, because here’s my point,” said Chester. “If we think that line 331 (legal services) or any other line for that matter needs to be increased, then now is the time to do it and not wait and have to argue with these people (the county commission) later on when they will tell us, you should have seen this earlier. And that makes us look bad. It’s easier for us to underspend than it is to overspend.”
Castleman tried to assure Chester that the county commission had requested a full account of budgetary needs, but they had cut funds for legal services in the past.
“It could very well be that they’re going to have to go out and appropriate more money for this budget, and that makes you look bad,” said Chester. “And it makes their budget look bad as well. It shows an inability to project a budget based on reasonable knowledge.”
Stevenson expected political maneuvering in the county commission to result in budget cuts, so he instead suggested a roughly 2 percent increase to the entire budget that could be attached to the legal services line.
“Even if we do not use the extra two or three thousand in legal services, usually you can rebudget it in another line,” said Stevenson. He went on to suggest that the commission could expect more legal challenges this year due to changes in the voter ID law.
Chester continued to emphasize that they had a public responsibility to voters and taxpayers to pay legal bills, noting that failure to do so was bad press. He suggested increasing the line for legal services to $25,000 to cover all eventualities.
“That’s an amount that they (the county commission) are going to have a problem with,” said Stevenson. Chester said that it would be better to present a large increase in a proposal to the county commission and have it cut. “If we have to come back then for more money, then that’s their problem.”
The commission finally agreed to increase the legal services line to $25,000, resulting in a final budget proposal of $234,758, which was approved without further objection.
The Commission also reviewed the 2012 Presidential Preference Primary expense report, which totaled $34,973.78.
Castleman noted that this figure proved better than the county commission’s allocations.
“I think it was around 37 (thousand), or just a little over 37 is what they were thinking we were going to spend because they were looking at the expenses from four years ago. Of course, we didn’t use as many poll workers, so it didn’t come out to be that.”
The expense report will be sent to the state for reimbursement of county funds.
In other business, the Election Commission reviewed petitions for candidacy in August’s county elections. Of particular note is the hotly contested race for a vacant seat in District 1.
“We had four people to qualify for the county commission race that’s up in (District) 1,” said Castleman. “Because Andy Holt resigned, we have one county commission seat open for (District) 1. I want everybody to be sure and emphasize that we’re just going to vote for one person. We’ve been in the habit when we vote for county commissioners of voting for two. So I tell all the media, be sure and tell all your friends that in that race you only vote for one person.”
The qualifying candidates in that race are James F. Bynum, Bobby Dunlap, David Laws and Michael J. Simmons. Tony Trimble qualified for the vacant constable position in Greenfield, and no one qualified for constable in Martin or for the position of road supervisor, whose abolishment is pending in the Weakley County Commission.
In Greenfield, both John H. Liggett and Bruce McCartney qualified to run for the School Board’s 3rd District seat. All other races in the county are uncontested. The deadline to file for a write-in candidacy is 50 days prior to the election.
In the state primaries, the only contested position among qualifiers was for the Republican nomination to the Tennessee State Senate, District 24.
The qualifiers were Danny C. Jowers and John D. Stevens. The qualifiers for the 76th District in the State House were Andy Holt and Mark Maddox, Republican and Democrat, respectively. Brad Thompson was the Democratic qualifier for State Senate District 24.
The Commission passed a motion to approve the qualifying petitions. They also approved new voter registration forms after hand checking 10 percent of them for omissions.
The Weakley County Election Commission will meet again at May 2 at the County Election office.