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Election budget cut by $28,000

Election budget cut by $28,000
It was back to the drawing board to draft a revised election commission budget for the upcoming fiscal after a Finance, Ways and Means Committee meeting last week. The election commission was asked to slice its 2012-13 budget by $28,000.
With an increased budget in hand for the Election Commission, committee member Jimmy Westbrook said the commission would have to stand in line.
“They are just going to have to stand in line. We can’t afford it. We’re looking at a tax increase and that’s substantial. I appreciate that you don’t want to stand in line, and that you want to cover everything. I understand that. Everyone else came in here with about the same budget. It’s just too much money,” Westbrook added.
Weakley County Election administrator Barbara Castleman explained to members of the county’s Finance, Ways and Means and HEED committees the commission’s needs for the upcoming year, which includes two more elections.
She said there will be four voting machines in each precinct. As she explained there were only six workers at each polling station during an election in March, there weren’t that many people who voted. Castleman recommended staffing eight poll workers at each precinct for the August and November elections.
“Forty-nine percent of people early voted in Weakley County and that percent goes up with each election. Instead of sitting there, your workers are going to be busy. They can handle it,” Westbrook responded during the meeting.
Westbrook requested the proposed eight workers be cut to six, which would reduce that line item in the Election Commission’s budget from $35,000 to $28,000.
Castleman had projected $25,000 in legal services for the upcoming fiscal year – a number that is an unknown. The Election Commission is still battling a lawsuit pitted against them when the former election administrator Diane Cashion was ousted from her position when the state General Assembly’s majority shifted from Democrat to Republican a few years ago.
The Legal Services line item was adjusted from $25,000 to $15,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.
FWM Committee chairman Roger Stewart said he knows the county is responsible to pay the legal services of the Election Commission. Stewart said if a bill for those services would surpass $15,000, the County Commission would pass a resolution to pay for the bill.
Voting machines in the county are nearing the six-years-old mark. Castleman told committee members every so often, back-up batteries need to be replaced.
“It’s kind of like an insurance policy,” she added. There are 45 voting machines in the county and there is a cost of $200 for a battery in each machine.
Committee member Eric Owen told Castleman the county couldn’t afford to replace them all.
“If it’s county-wide (when the batteries would be needed for polling machines), then something bad has already happened. They wouldn’t be trying to vote; they’ll be home trying to stay warm or whatever. I could doing a third of them,” Owen said.
Castleman told commissioners she was contacted by the company, Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Neb., in Martin and was told to purchase back-up batteries. She signed a contract to purchase the batteries.
Committee members explained to Castleman she did not have the authority to sign a contract, as the county’s Finance Director Shawn Francisco was the purchasing agent for the county. When asked if purchasing the batteries was required by law, Castleman said it was not.
“I don’t think it is required by law, but it is required by law for us to have efficient elections, and of course, we define what that is,” the election administrator responded.
After the dialogue, committee members voted to reduce the Election Commission’s Maintenance and Repair – Voting Equipment line item from $20,000 to $15,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.
Two days after the meeting, the Election Commission was presented with the revised budget and asked to approve the changes.
Castleman noted the upcoming election year was cause for the commission’s budget increase. There will be a county-wide General Election, as well as State and Federal Primaries election in August.
Again in November of this year, residents will head to the polls for the Presidential Election and city municipal races, as well as a state and federal general election.
Castleman said the state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins has expressed the Nov. 10 election could have one of the largest voter turnouts in history.
“This is a terrible time to be dealing with this type of budget,” Election Commission chairman Wayne Chester said during the meeting.
“We already read the budget and approved it. Our job is to ensure we conduct elections and that is what we are going to do,” Chester added.
With $28,000 in proposed budget cuts, Election Commission members asked Castleman if it was possible to make budget transfers throughout the year to ensure adequate funding for the upcoming elections. The administrator said while it was time-consuming, she had no problems asking for budget transfers within the upcoming fiscal year if needed.
Election Commission members approved the revised budget for Fiscal year 2012-13.
The Weakley County Commission will be asked to approve the budget this evening when members meet in a full session at the courthouse at 5:30.

WCP 6.28.12

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