‘We don’t have enough money,’ Macon-Bibb elections board says of budget reduction

Two+rented+shipping+containers+behind+the+Macon-Bibb+County+Board+of+Elections+represent+just+one+of+the+added+expenses+for+the+state%27s+new+voting+machines.

Two rented shipping containers behind the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections represent just one of the added expenses for the state’s new voting machines.

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections will be appealing to the county for more money as they head into an August runoff and what could be a very challenging presidential election.

Not only is the board trying to resolve issues that led to delays in some precincts opening June 9 and in tabulating results, but now they are struggling to pay bills.

“We requested over a million dollars and we got $950,000,” board chairman Mike Kaplan said during Tuesday evening’s board meeting.

Board of Elections administrative assistant Charlene Maynard said she has been working since February on the budget in order to cover expenses related to Georgia’s new voting system, yet in many areas the county ignored the requested increases.

“This budget makes us look like we don’t know what we’re doing and that’s not fair,” Maynard told board members. “The county has not discussed anything with us. We have not gotten an explanation.”

Maynard listed a number of spending categories where expenses have risen, such as salaries because more poll workers are needed with the new voting machines and the increase in absentee ballots due to COVID-19.

“We requested $2,000 more and they gave us $25,000 less,” Kaplan said.

Board member Henry Ficklin said the county’s former human resources director was shocked the staff is so underpaid.

“This is not fair for them to have to work for such low wages because we know they work their fingers to the bone,” Ficklin said.

Not only did they receive $7,000 less than the $112,000 requested for building rentals, the elections office is coming up short for vehicle and storage unit rentals.

The touchscreens, printers, batteries and tabulators take up so much room that two large shipping containers are needed for storage behind the building on Pio Nono Avenue. Trucks had to be rented to deliver the machines to the polls.

Maynard said funding for that rental line item remained at $5,000 but they need nearly three times that.

The paper required to print the backup ballots costs 13 cents a sheet, so Maynard requested $15,000 and received $9,000 instead.

“We asked for a printer cartridge line item of $18,300. They did not add that accounting line in at all,” Maynard said. “We don’t have enough money to pay for things.”

“It’s like a dictatorship,” Ficklin said. “This is what you’re going to get and that’s not right.”

With the county expecting double-digit percentages in revenue reductions during the coronavirus shutdown, departments were told to hold the line.

Commissioners expect to put together a supplemental budget at the beginning of next year when the actual revenue figures will make the financial picture much clearer.

Plus, a pay-scale study is in the final stages. The county will use those recommendations to adjust salaries to bring them in line with other similar-sized municipalities to try to reduce the loss of trained workers leaving for better wages.

The administration hopes to be able to fund the implementation of the pay scale after January.

During Tuesday morning’s commission meetings at Government Center, county manager Keith Moffett reminded commissioners they punted furloughs for workers. The mayor suggested furloughs in order to make ends meet in the budget shortfall.

If revenues rebound and the furloughs are not implemented early next year, commissioners will have to find $2.8 million to put back in the budget, Moffett said.

Going forward, finance director Christy Iuliucci will have a better idea of what they have to work with after the May and June revenue figures come in.

When going over FY20 spending with commissioners, Iuliucci said, “Pretty much everybody is in line.”

Revenue increases at the beginning of this year are helping offset the drastic drop-off that began in late March.

It’s unclear whether county leaders are aware yet of the added expenses the board of elections faces with the new voting machines and two major elections.

“It doesn’t matter what they budget, they’re going to pay it,” Kaplan assured the board.

He and Ficklin have agreed to call a meeting with the administration to go over their funding concerns.

“We need to go down there and raise a little heck,” Ficklin said.

He reminded the board that the Bibb Board of Education paid $200,000 for the E-SPLOST election last fall.

“That was revenue that should have come to us,” Ficklin said. “It was our money and we should have gotten it back.”

Elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson said the county could recoup $10,000 from a grant through the Help America Vote Act. About $3,000 of the $4,110 spent on personal protective equipment could be paid for through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, she said.

A grant also was available for two secure absentee ballot drop boxes the board wanted to purchase for a total of $4,246.

“The county dropped the ball and missed the deadline for getting that grant,” Watson said.

Elections officials fear COVID-19 concerns will mean another big bounty of absentee ballots that could take days to open and count.

Watson said there also is a backlog of a few thousand voter registrations to process.

“After August to October 3 we’ll be doing massive amounts of voter registrations,” she said.

Poll workers already were in short supply in the June 9 election when Watson was still trying to find help right up until the last minute, she said.

“This November election is going to make this seem like a baby tornado,” Ficklin said.

Watson said the new voting machines are not user friendly for poll workers, many of whom were getting their first look at them in person due to COVID-19 remote training.

They learned some lessons the hard way this month when equipment was jostled in transport and wouldn’t function properly at first. Extra training is planned before the runoff August 11.

“This was a hard, difficult election,” Kaplan said. “I’m really proud of a lot of what we did. A lot of what we did was a learning process. Hopefully we’ll do better and provide safe and fair elections.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]