May 20, 2013

Two more staff members needed, elections chief tells Sedgwick County commissioners

Two additional employees would help the Sedgwick County election office run more efficiently, its leader told commissioners Monday.

Two additional employees would help the Sedgwick County election office run more efficiently, its leader told commissioners Monday.

Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman made a plea for two more staff members next year at a cost of slightly more than $102,000, including benefits.

“That is just to help us function properly so we’re not having to work 100 hours in a week during election season and avoid any mistakes we might make because we’re tired,” Lehman said.

The office was plagued with election-night woes last year, including late results and incomplete results reported as final. After an investigation, Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Lehman’s office was understaffed and needed more training.

Sedgwick County voters cast 270,000 ballots last year.

Last year, Lehman’s office eliminated one administrative assistant position, six temporary workers and 100 volunteer poll workers “due to efficiencies from the purchase of an automated mail ballot reader system in 2012,” according to the county budget.

Lehman also has asked for $54,000 for new batteries for electronic voting machines and $45,000 to have professional technicians maintain them. She requested $16,755 for maintenance for paper ballot machines.

“We need to have a more proactive plan for maintenance of our voting equipment, which is something that I have addressed in our budget,” Lehman told commissioners.

“They are aging, and we believe we’d be much better off” having certified technicians servicing the machines, Lehman said.

Federal funds to replace equipment are drying up, Lehman said she learned recently. The cost of maintaining voter registration databases also will be passed on to counties in the future, she said.

Lehman also told commissioners her office needs more polling locations, saying that it had registered 30,000 new voters since the county reduced the number of places people could vote in 2006.

She said her office was scouting places that might work as voting locations. Lehman said she’d like to find at least three new locations to alleviate lines at some polling places.

Lehman’s presentation was one of eight commissioners heard Monday.

Departmental budget hearings began last week and continue through Wednesday.

Public works director David Spear asked for $400,000 for two watershed studies. The money would be for contractual services, not additional positions, he said.

Commissioners also heard from District Attorney Marc Bennett, who is asking for an additional lawyer to handle child-in-need-of-care cases at a cost of almost $86,000, including benefits. An alternate proposal is to hire an investigator for those cases at a total cost of almost $61,000.

Bennett also wants to enlarge a room for victims and witnesses at a cost of about $133,000.

He told commissioners the cost of the project, if delayed, would rise 5 percent every year because of inflation.

Sedgwick County District Court officials are not asking for additional money for next year, said court administrator Ellen House.

Facilities director Steve Claassen asked for almost $400,000 more for next year, mostly due to the increased cost of utilities for the county.

His budget request included an extra $332,342 for electricity and $45,570 for water and sewage bills.

Higher utility costs are eating into the budget for preventative maintenance, he said.

"We are now choosing between paying a utility bill” and fixing a problem, Claassen said.

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