Last updated: April 16. 2014 4:16PM - 656 Views
By - cberendt@civitasmedia.com

Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe Sampson Board of Commissioners gathered to hear budget presentations Tuesday evening during its final departmental workshop this year leading up to budget deliberations.
Chris Berendt/Sampson IndependentThe Sampson Board of Commissioners gathered to hear budget presentations Tuesday evening during its final departmental workshop this year leading up to budget deliberations.
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The Sampson County Board of Elections will have to spend at least half a million dollars for new equipment in the next four years due to a state mandate.

Board of Elections director Ashley Tew was able to provide a few details, but said the specifics have not been readily available from state elections officials. During a brief presentation to the Sampson Board of Commissioners this week, Tew gave a general overview of her budget, which includes putting away funds for new voting equipment, budgeting for elections changes and a request for a salary bump for one of the office’s full-time employees.

“The state has told us that within the next three to four years we will have to replace all of our voting equipment. It will be completely obsolete to them,” Tew remarked. “They will not give me an exact number of machines we need to replace, what equipment exactly we are replacing or how much that equipment will be (in cost).”

Tew said by the time the equipment needs to be replaced in 2018, it is likely to be different than what would be purchased right now.

“They think we will be OK until around 2018, but they are saying that by 2018 we will have to replace it,” Tew said.

Citing state estimates, Tew threw out a rough figure of $500,000-$800,000 to do the equipment upgrades.

“Let me guess,” Commissioner Albert Kirby offered cheekily, “they’re not going to pay for it?”

That was correct, and longtime Board of Elections director Sylvia Thornton, who has been assisting at the office with Tew’s transition into the job and leading up to this year’s primary, said the figure would likely be all county dollars this time around.

“The county has no dollars in our current equipment. It was all federally-funded with grants, but they’re not giving us anything this time,” Thornton remarked.

Tew said the anticipated increase in her 2014-15 budget request would be largely in part to putting aside funds ahead of time.

“We feel that by setting aside $150,000 each year over the next three to four years, it is not placing as big of a burden as coming in and saying ‘I want $800,000 in my budget this year for new equipment.’ As (the state) gives me information each year, hopefully I can better present it to (the board) in our budget,” Tew commented. “We’re hoping we can err on the lower side of those figures.”

Additionally, the State Board of Elections has informed Sampson and others that in all probability there will be a second federal primary in July, and the county should budget for it.

“As far as (Sylvia) and I could go back we have not had one,” said Tew. “The state said we will have it and it will be in July. We won’t know until then but we’re budgeting for it in case we do. Also, for (2014-15) we’re doing a general election. They’re a little more expensive than the primaries.”

General elections, she said, mean heavier turnout, additional one-stop voting sites and longer hours for temporary workers.

While there is a $150,000 increase in the 2014-15 Board of Elections budget request to save for required equipment, the budget was able to be axed in other areas, to include Tew’s lower salary compared to previous director Donna Marshburn, the Elections director noted. Tew said she would like to use a portion of those funds to request a raise for longtime employee Sherry Hope, who assists both the Board of Elections and Veterans Office.

“I have worked for her for two months now and I can say she is fantastic,” Tew remarked. “I have never asked her to help me with something that she has not helped me with.”

Tew said she is “in great hands” with Hope, Thornton and Veterans Service officer Ann Knowles, who needs Hope as much as she does, maybe even more right now. Hope splits her time between the two offices, housed in the same building. She is an accredited Veterans Service Officerand is working toward Board of Elections certification.

Tew said Hope does a lot more than her title, Administrative Support Specialist I, would indicate.

“She takes care of veterans. If I have to step out for a doctor’s appointment or a break, she takes care of the Board of Elections. There is nothing she doesn’t do if we ask for it,” Tew attested. “I believe her salary is too low. I think the midpoint is very fair. Honestly, I think she deserves more than the midpoint. She is very invaluable. I cannot begin to imagine what we would do without her.”

That move would mean about $4,200, from a current salary of $23,688 to a midpoint of $27,900.

Most Board of Elections offices have multiple employees, Tew said. At the Sampson Board of Elections, it is Tew and a half (of a full-time employee), just as at the Veterans Office it is Veterans officer Ann Knowles and a half. Together, that full-time employee is Hope.

“Sometimes I’m willing to give my half just like sometimes (Knowles) gives me her half. We do the work of what some offices have five employees to do. So, I don’t feel it’s an unfair task to try to ask for her salary to go up. I do think she deserves it. If we can do that, that’s the only thing in our budget — aside from that $150,000 — that we’re asking for.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at cberendt@civitasmedia.com.

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