They are particularly concerned about whether money will be available to hire and train a replacement for the board’s director, who will retire early next year. That replacement must be on staff for an elections cycle in order to be trained to do the job, board members said, meaning the position must be filled later this fiscal year.
Last year, the two boards met to discuss the non-payment of bills submitted for the auditor for general election expenses. That discussion shed light on a cash flow problem the board experienced on and off last year and are, again, this year – not just in the elections office, but in all general fund operations.
Director Rita Smith, Deputy Director Becky Johnston and board members Rita Slavin and Ed Durst expressed particular concern about a $12,000 payment to the firm that updates its elections system and voter registration data. A cut-off of that service would put the elections board office out of business, Slavin said, and at last check, the bill had not been paid.
“It’s scary,” Slavin told commissioners.
President Mick Davenport said the county budget is particulary tight while awaiting proceeds from the first-half real estate tax settlement. Commissioners are now going over each expenditure submitted to them for payment, prioritizing those payments, and sometimes communicating with officeholders when an entry raises a question. That close analysis takes place each week before commissioners meet to approve the payment of bills.
“We are doing the best we can and so are you, and this is a difficult time of the year for us,” Bartrum said.
The board has seen a savings this year because it was not necessary to conduct a May primary. Some of those savings could be applied to an extra cost the elections board anticipates this year. Director Rita Smith will retire in February, and her replacement must be hired and trained later this year.
Because of state statute, the director and deputy director must be of opposite political affiliation. Johnston is a Democrat, so Smith’s replacement must be a Republican.
The position will be posted, Durst said, but it is important than any new director work with current staff to become familiar with the work involved during an elections cycle.
That new hire should be made in late August or September, Durst said.
Commissioners made cuts in budgets in order to make up for a low cash carryover into the current year. Bartrum said it will be vital for county officials and office managers to communicate closely with the board about their needs this year, so further cuts or even layoffs can be avoided.