County Cuts Supervisor of Elections’ Budget 4.9%, But Keeps It Well Above 2009 Level
FlaglerLive | September 9, 2010
For local governments, budget season during a recession is the equivalent of pulling teeth. For the Flagler County Commission, budget season with the Supervisor of Elections is a root canal. That operation, stretched over several meetings and frightening stacks of paperwork, appears to have reached a conclusion on Wednesday.
The commission voted 4-1 to cut Weeks’ proposed budget for 2011 by $17,054, to $656,192. It’s a 4.9 percent decrease from this year’s budget, but still 6.7 percent above the supervisor of elections’ 2009 budget–and, contrary to the supervisor’s claim that the office has been chronically underfunded, 43 percent higher than what it was in 2004.
The 6.7 percent difference over two years ago was the reason County Commissioner Milissa Holland voted against the final budget package. “If the sheriff can come in with level funding three years in a row,” Holland said, citing other constitutional officers’ budgets that have been flat over the last two years, “I just don’t see a warrant for this request.”
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Weeks had asked for $673,000. The figure included two items commissioners were not prepared to fund as Weeks had them listed. The first was a $6,000 “wellness program” that essentially pays employees who show up for work when they say they’re sick.
“We don’t do this for any other department or any other constitutional officer. I see no reason to pay people for not being sick” Commissioner Alan Peterson said. “If they’re sick they should not come to work.”
“We’re not actually asking people to come to work when they’re sick,” Weeks said. “But when we’re preparing for an election and somebody may have a headache, or they just might not feel top notch for the day, it’s an incentive to have those people there because it’s critical with only a staff of five that we have everybody on board when we’re preparing.”
The practice was, in fact, established by Peggy Rae Border, the former supervisor, but it was not funded last year. “I’m willing to take the risk that all your people will feel well enough to come to work,” Peterson said. The line-item was struck.
The second amount in contention was the $15,000 in local matching funds for a federal Help America Vote Act grant. The Help America Vote Act is a 2002 law that has its roots in the Florida debacle of the 2000 presidential election, when ballots, voting machines and poll workers’ confusion contributed to unreliable results and a month-long electoral crisis over a hung vote that the U.S. Supreme Court ended with a 5-4 ruling that declared George W. Bush the winner. HAVA dollars train poll workers and educate voters.
Weeks wanted the county to contribute $15,000 as an addition to her overall budget. The county wanted Weeks to get the $15,000 out of her existing budget. Commissioners had legal backing from their attorney. “It is not that you have to fund an extra amount,” Al Hadeed, the county attorney, said. “Let us make that very clear. A lot of words have been spoken, but the bottom line is, there are no extra funds that you have to appropriate.” He added: “The supervisor is supposed to identify funds within the operating funds that you give her that are related to those functions that meet the matching grant requirement. She is to take those funds and the HAVA grant both when they come in and put them in a separate account, so there’s a clear audit trail.”
Weeks persisted. If she were to do what Border had done in the past—set aside HAVA money from somewhere in her budget—she would have to subtract the amount from another item. “Would you like me to bring prior year budgets and show you how it was budgeted in the past?” Weeks said.
Hadeed lost patience. “The department of state reviewed that entire history, all the records, summarized all that data. Here’s the takeaway,” the attorney said. “Flagler County was not consistent in how it handled this issue in the past. What the state of Florida did was to say please handle it this way for the future. And that’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to make sure that we’re going to follow what the Department of State prescribed. No more, no less.”
If, Commission Chairman George Hanns told Weeks, she would happen to need more money during the year, she could always file a budget amendment with the commission. “I’ve done that before and the outcome has been negative. I’m well aware how that works,” Weeks said. She then left the meeting, having to take a call from state officials on election-related matters back at her office. The commission continued the discussion, though by then it had settled on Weeks’ budget figure.
Holland wanted to explain her continued opposition to the supervisor’s budget, even though it would be decreased. “We’re going on our third year of the most difficult economic times that this county has seen. Growth has just stopped. We don’t have many residents moving in the area or many residents leaving, everyone is just kind of remaining here and hoping the economy gets better,” Holland said, relating Weeks’ history of budget requests that Holland deemed out of line with Flagler’s conditions. “If you take into account what we’re looking at approving, the $673,246, that’s still a significant increase of the last couple of years’ budget, and not have any significant elections in the meantime. We do have a gubernatorial and cabinet race this year in the general election.”