The Clinton County Legislature has devised a plan to help towns pay for last year's election costs, but it won't be enough, in most cases.
Last November's election featured the first time towns and the City of Plattsburgh used the new electronic voting machines required by the federal Help America Vote Act. Use of the new machines hiked election costs substantially for municipalities.
The main costs came from the special thermal paper needed to cast ballots. The paper cost 57 cents per sheet, and towns were required to provide three sheets for each voter in case mistakes were made.
But municipalities did not have estimates for what the election would cost when they devised their 2010 budgets in late 2009 or early 2010.
In most cases, towns fell short in their projections for election costs.
The four municipalities affected most were the City and Town of Plattsburgh, Peru and Dannemora.
The Town of Plattsburgh budgeted $20,250, and the election actually cost $30,054, leaving a shortfall of $9,804.
In Peru, the election cost $14,703 and only $6,000 was budgeted, leaving a difference of $8,703.
Dannemora budgeted only $2,000, and the actual costs were $10,136 for a difference of $8,136.
The city budgeted $30,033 and the costs were $45,528, for a shortfall of $15,495.
The only towns to budget enough for elections were Beekmantown, which budgeted $22,720 — $8,891 more than the cost of the election, and AuSable, which wound up $57.83 ahead of costs.
To close the gap, the county is considering paying the towns a total of $35,000.
Under the plan, the towns and city would get $500 for each election district.
The Town of Plattsburgh would get $4,500, Peru would get $2,500, Dannemora $1,500 and the city would get $8,000.
"If we get some money from the county, that would be a huge help," Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Bernie Bassett said.
Beekmantown would get $2,500, and AuSable would get $1,500, even though they budgeted correctly.
"Why punish them for doing it right," County Deputy Administrator Rodney Brown said.
"They can use the money to offset next year's elections."
Some legislators questioned whether the county is doing enough to help the towns, considering they did not have information about how much the election would cost when they made their 2010 budgets.
"I am concerned that some of the towns might be upset with the shortfall," Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) said.
Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac) said the payback plan should be looked at again.
"The towns had to guess, and some guessed wrong, and it is not fair to them because they did not have the information," Butler said.
Keith Defayette (R-Area 5, Schuyler Falls) said it was the duty of the Board of Elections to inform the towns what the estimates for holding the elections with new machines would be.
Brown confirmed that the Board of Elections had the estimates in September of 2009 but did not provide them to the towns until spring of 2010 well after budgets had been made.
"It's not us, it's the Board of Elections," Defayette said.
"We are offering $35,000 to the towns in good faith, and we don't have to."
Judith Layhee, who retired as the Republican elections commissioner at the end of 2010, said her office did provide towns with the information before budget time if they asked for it.
"We were still trying to figure out exactly what it would cost, but if they called and asked, we gave them our best estimates," Layhee said.
Democratic Elections Commissioner Susan Castine did not return a call from the Press-Republican.
Peru Supervisor Peter Glushko said improved communication between the county and towns would be helpful, but the source of the election-cost problem lies deeper.
"We were looking to save money anywhere in our budget, and we were hoping that we would not have to pick up any of the additional costs because this was mandated by the federal government," he said.
"It's another unfunded mandate that all keeps getting funneled back to us."
Bassett said the towns are not getting anything for the additional cost of an election.
"I don't mind spending money, but I'd better get something for it if I do," he said.
"I am not convinced we got anything more. We got the results of the election the same as we did with the old machines."
Legislators will discuss the matter some more at next week's meeting before deciding if they want to increase the amount they will give to the towns.
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