County to pick up town's election tab
By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY A $500,000 cost burden will be shifted from the towns to the county this fall.
The required move to electronic voting machines across the nation will take the onus for handling elections out of the hands of the towns.
The responsibility will sit squarely on the shoulders of the county, said Election Commissioner Rodney Gaebel.
That means poll inspectors and machine custodians who have traditionally been paid by the individual towns will become part-time county employees.
The cost of training, the cost of moving the voting machines, even the cost of storing the new machines, will lie with the county.
But it all comes with a price tag, and that’s what the county is trying to decide, Gaebel said.
Among the ideas being kicked around right now is a swallowing of all town costs in November at almost half a million dollars.
In exchange, the county would keep any sales tax revenues that had previously been promised to the towns to help offset the county’s new costs.
“Instead of dispersing this money and then backcharging them for the elections, this seems to make sense,” said Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis.
Nothing’s set in stone, and the county could still pay the bills then charge something to each of the towns for providing the service.
But in the end, Gaebel said, the federal elimination of the old lever voting machines in 2009 will make the new machines county property.
They’ll have to be stored in a central location, and the computer components will require a controlled environment.
It will be a county-paid employee rolling them out in time for an election, a county employee setting them up for use.
With custodians and inspectors on the town payrolls at the moment, wages are across the board.
Gaebel said the county is working to find a dollar figure that will fairly compensate every official at the same rate. In bigger towns where there’s more work, the pay may be bigger, but it would be pro-rated per voting district.
The county will also have to cover the cost of training elections officials to use the machines something that must be done this year, before even one machine is placed in each polling place for handicapped users.
A meeting of the county’s 15 town supervisors has left them wondering if they can shift the elections line item budgeted for 2008 toward other town needs.
It’s a substantial sum even in the smaller towns.
Delaware Supervisor Jim Scheutzow puts the cost for elections in his town at around $20,800.
In Liberty, the number is around $20,000 with $5,600 already spent this year on the smaller primaries.
The concept of “extra” money in the budget made the proposal more palatable to the Association of Supervisors, who have agreed to the plan as it stands so far.