Macon-Bibb elections will be fully funded, board members assured

A+30-minute+meeting+was+all+it+took+for+the+Macon-Bibb+Board+of+Elections+to+lay+aside+concerns+of+a+budget+shortfall+due+to+added+expenses+for+Georgia%27s+new+voting+machines.+

Liz Fabian

A 30-minute meeting was all it took for the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections to lay aside concerns of a budget shortfall due to added expenses for Georgia’s new voting machines.

What looked like a major budget shortfall for the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections was resolved in a 30-minute meeting at Government Center.

County Manager Keith Moffett and budget and grants manager Sherita Sims-Jones sat down to go over the Fiscal Year ‘20 and ’21 budgets with elections chairman Mike Kaplan and board members Henry Ficklin and Cassandra Powell.

A week ago, the Board of Elections learned of pending shortfalls in available funds for upcoming election supplies and other expenses needed for Georgia’s new voting system.

According to figures presented at the elections board meeting, it appeared the county was ignoring requests for additional money. All departments were expected to hold the line on spending to FY ’20 levels.

Moffett pointed out that not only did the county provide the board of elections a supplemental allocation of $377,000 this spring, but $350,000 of that has yet to be spent.

“Today is the last day of the budget year,” Moffett said. “Anything not spent is done for this year.”

The extra equipment – touchscreens, iPads, tabulators, printers and cartridges – has not only led to additional purchases but added expenses for storage and transport.

“We have $2,405 for truck rentals. That’s as high as it’s ever been,” Ficklin noted.

Moffett said that he assumed that all of the needed supplies would be purchased at one time and not parsed out over the year for individual elections.

“That’s why we did the supplemental for such a large amount,” Moffett said.

“That was not clear to them,” Ficklin said.

“We just had no idea in the beginning exactly what these expenses will be to run this new equipment,” Kaplan said.

Moffett explained there are many unknown factors influencing the Fiscal ’21 budget year including variables in tax revenue due to the COVID-19 shutdown and the pending pay scale study that will adjust county salaries next year.

He guaranteed that whatever the board needs to run the upcoming elections, they will receive.

“If you’ve got to buy paper, just buy paper,” Moffett said. “The funds were there and the timing and process just didn’t match up.”

Kaplan also noted that a $3,000 state grant was available for absentee ballot drop-off boxes, but the state had a specific vendor in mind. The county followed standard procedure and put the item out for bid so the deadline was missed.

Moffett said that there are some exceptions that could have skipped the bid process, such as if there was a sole vendor providing the equipment or if it was deemed an emergency purchase.

“Procurement adds 30 days to the process,” Moffett explained.

The county is aware there would be additional expenses in this first election with the new machines and had planned all along to provide supplemental funding based on needs.

With all the bulky new equipment, elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson and her staff also have outgrown the building at 2525 Pio Nono Avenue.

Five years ago, the office moved from a 10,350 square foot-space at 2445 Pio Nono to gain 2,200 square feet and save $2,600 in annual rent.

“I don’t have an answer to the building,” Moffett explained.

He offered the now-vacant Bloomfield Recreation Center for storage, but Ficklin shared concerns.

“It might have enough space but it’s such a vulnerable area,” he said. “I would hate for that kind of equipment to be there and get stolen.”

Spending $160 a month for storage containers seemed like a more viable option for right now, they decided.

Moffett suggested meeting again before the November Presidential Election to see if there are any updates to the financial picture.

They agreed to keep the line of communication open between the county and the elections supervisor and board. All appeared happy with the outcome of the discussion that cleared up misunderstandings.

“Voting is the basis on which all government is built,” Ficklin said. “Without elections we don’t have any of this,” he said, gesturing toward the government offices.

Moffett noted the complications of this year’s elections.

“With new state equipment, timing and communication could be done a little better. The end goal is to have fair and equitable and transparent elections. That’s the goal, Moffett said.

Kaplan concluded, “And we all have the same goal.”

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