The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 22, 2013

Commissioner balks at elections funding

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  Commissioners on Thursday passed a permanent $19.9 million general fund budget that is at least $1 million less than what elected officials originally said they would need to run their offices.

While the budget resolution was passed unanimously, Commissioner Daniel Claypool said if he had the authority to vote no on individual appropriations, he would have done so on the Board of Elections, which received $795,637 in appropriations, about $12,000 less than the board requested.

Claypool chastised the board for the “unreasonableness” of its budget request in a non-presidential election year. He said the board’s budget keeps growing while other elected officials are operating on budgets that have changed very little since county revenues took a big dive in 2009. The board had $577,000 in appropriations that year; for 2013, it will receive more than $200,000 in additional funding. About $90,000 of that is health insurance premiums and Public Employment Retirement System contributions that does not show up in the 2009 appropriation because of a change in accounting procedures.

Theelections board has returned money to the county in each of the past three years, Claypool noted. The amounts have ranged from $40,000 to $60,000. Claypool said his issue is that it purposely asks for excessive appropriations, which prevents commissioners from having that money to appropriate to other general fund accounts, such as the Humane Society, sheriff and the justice system.

Board of Elections Director Carol Lovas said the appropriations that the board will receive are needed.

“We don’t have any excess money to bring (the appropriations) down,” she said. “We are all in agreement that what we could go down to.”

As for returning money to the county at the end of the year, Lovas said that was made possible only because of a grant the board received from Secretary of State Jon Husted. The grant money helped pay for mandatory training for poll workers.

“We try to be as frugal as we can be in this office. Even as a director, I pack bags,” she said.

Lovas said she worked with Commissioner Peggy Carlo to pare the board’s request by about $12,000. Commissioners sought a $35,000 reduction, however. Claypool said the reduction was presented with the assurance that if the elections board needed money later in the year, the commissioners would make the necessary appropriations, as it has done in years past.

Carlo defended the agreement she reached with the elections board and said the commissioners need to honor it. She said that while she is not in favor of over-appropriating funds, the board of elections has been cautious in its spending and has a history of returning unused money at the end of the year.

“I applaud them for that,” Carlo said.

Board President Joe Moroski said he feels that when the board sends out a representative to negotiate on behalf of the board, and ultimately the taxpayer, the board needs to honor the agreement that is reached. County Administrator Janet Discher, for example, worked with Common Pleas judges to cut $100,000 from their requests.