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Commissioners scrutinize JeffCo election budget

By Staff | Feb 26, 2010

CHARLES TOWN – The debate over Jefferson County Clerk Jennifer Maghan’s elections budget continued this week.

Maghan appeared Thursday before members of the Jefferson County Commission to discuss the account, which she says was underfunded and will need additional cash before the upcoming primary election.

Commissioners previously approved $153,343 worth of funding for the county’s elections. By February, county budget documents show that $185,080.78 had been spent from the account.

Maghan said the shortfall is because of two special elections that were scheduled after the budget was drafted. Were it not for those elections, she said expenditures from the account would be running at only 31 percent of projections.

Maghan presented commissioners with her own documents regarding the account during their weekly meeting, but some members of the group questioned the numbers it contained.

County Commissioner Patsy Noland said actual expenditures from the account had run far above the 31 percent that Maghan mentioned. Noland said expenditures from the account stood at 115 percent of projections.

Maghan attributed the discrepancy to the fact that a budget revision at that time had not been approved. The revision served to reincorporate funding for the special election on table games that took place in December. Charles Town Races & Slots was required to reimburse the county $69,000 to cover the cost of that election.

Maghan said the commission is required by state code to fund the upcoming election that will take place in May. More money will be needed to undertake that vote, even after the reimbursement is accounted for, she said.

“We’re still short,” she said.

Maghan said she expects that her office will need an additional $55,000 to pay for supplies and $56,000 to pay for poll workers for that election. In all, she said it will take $170,000 to finance the upcoming primary.

The figures are based upon the fact that additional precincts have been added since the 2008 primary, she said, which cost the county $140,290 to undertake.

Maghan said new equipment will need to be purchased for these additional precincts, and additional poll workers will have to be hired to work at the sites.

The figure didn’t sit well with Noland.

“Oh no way,” she said upon hearing that the election was expected to cost $170,000.

Maghan said during discussions that her office was spending only what it had to on elections.

“We don’t spend any more than we need to,” she said. “This is not a fluff fund. This facilitates elections.”

Noland disagreed, stating that it appeared that money from the account was being used for more than just operations related to elections.

“For me, it has not been 100 percent transparent,” Noland said.

Commission President Lyn Widmyer said the account would be addressed as part of future discussions.

Fellow members of the commission said they have questions about some of the clerk’s other expenditures as well. Commissioner Dale Manuel noted that the clerk’s salary and wages line item in other accounts also appeared to be over budget by as much as $32,000.

“We either have control over this budget or we don’t have control over this budget,” Manuel said.

The remark was met with opposition from Commissioner Jim Surkamp, who noted that when the commission’s own budget went over, they simply raised taxes, something that he said he opposes.

“If the county raises taxes, we didn’t budget properly,” Surkamp said.