Commissioners sweat over election costs

Pat Hill
Posted

What Commissioner Dave Paul called a “teetering rock on a fiscal precipice,” Teller County’s budget is negatively affected this year by a decrease in property-tax revenue and a reduction in funds from gaming revenue.

While the decreases were expected, county officials were blindsided when the Colorado Secretary of State sent two representatives to take over the office of clerk & recorder J.J. Jamison to manage the general election Nov. 6.

In a scathing indictment of the office, Secretary Scott Gessler released a staff report Aug. 6 on the infractions that occurred during the primary election of June 26.

The report begins with bullet points:

• Lack of planning, oversight and leadership by Clerk J.J. Jamison

• Failure to properly use tools provided by the Secretary of State’s office and training to plan election activities

• Insufficient knowledge of voter registration procedures and the SCORE voter registration systems

• Lack of written procedures in place

• Failure to properly train election workers

• Insufficient knowledge to properly use election tabulation equipment

• Systematic disorganization of election supplies, equipment and material

• Insufficient county staff dedicated to election activities

• Insufficient space to process ballots and prepare for election day

• Insufficient security for voted and unvoted ballots

• Absence of key employees due to vacation scheduling.

With only a few weeks to prepare a balanced budget, county officials are scrambling to plug the budget gap caused, in part, by an additional $135,000, to pay for the services of the Secretary of State’s representatives.

“The money we’re using to pay for Al (Davidson) and Deb Silva, the people the state said we have to hire to make sure the election is conducted in the proper manner, takes away from what we should be doing, what we need to be doing,” said county administrator Sheryl Decker.

While money does come into the clerk & recorder’s office, those funds are slated to cover election costs, Decker said. “We only have so much money and when you have to spend it on something like new equipment, it needs to be taken from somewhere else,” she added. “So we don’t have that flexibility like we used to have.”

In fact, Davidson did request additional equipment, ballot-scanning machines and laptop computers and assured the commissioners that the election would proceed smoothly.

Yet Commissioner Paul is still revved up about the extra costs. “We try and do capital projects, try and maintain our levels of service, and we have to look at each and every one of those and make a decision as to what services we’re going to be able to continue,” Paul said. “And having the additional burden put on the budget has caused some strain on those decisions.”

The choices of where to cut could be grim. “Do we take money out of capital projects, out of maintenance items, do we put off replacing equipment for another year or two?” he said. “But, in the end, we will balance the budget as we are required to by statute.”

Before the infractions surfaced, the county budgeted $82,000 to cover general election costs. `The problem is that the election is going to cost us over $200,000,” Paul said. “And we didn’t have any inkling that was going to be the situation.”

In the end, the county budget is balanced with taxpayer money. “We need to make sure we are good stewards of taxpayers’ money,” Paul said. “That’s why I take it so seriously that we take care of that money appropriately.”

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