Registrars take 11 percent budget increase

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PROSPECT — The town may save money on labor by using electronic ballot-counting machines, but technology comes with its own unique costs.

The Town Council approved Tuesday a $1,000 increase to the mayor’s recommended $40,000 budget for elections and registrars. The increase will pay for a one-year service contract with LHS Associates, which will insure against costly repairs to the tabulator machines. The machines’ batteries also need to be replaced, at a cost of roughly $200.

The state had previously paid for the LHS contract and is now in a dispute about whether its current contract will cover the first six months of 2011—the state and the company, which sells and services vote-tabulating machines, disagree about whether the contract runs through the 2010 fiscal year, ending in June 2011, or through the 2010 calendar year, according to Democratic Registrar Katie Blinstrubas.

“The state paid when the machines weren’t going to break down, but we get to pay now as the machines get used and older,” quipped Republican Registrar Kathy Vander Eyk with a laugh.

She expects the town will need to renew its service contract for the 2011 calendar year, noting it would need to be renewed every year thereafter.

The registrars also requested a more secure place to charge and store the machines, which are currently kept in an electrical closet within their office. They said other town employees have keys to both the office and electrical closet, and there is currently no secure area for the machines to be charged and tested.

Though other town officials have been “very accommodating,” Blinstrubas said, a “verifiable chain of custody” for the machines needs to be maintained—“right now, we do not have that security,” reads the registrars’ budget request.

“Right now what we have for our machines, which cost a minimum of $2,500 each, is a small metal cabinet, and with a good swift kick, you could break the lock” Blinstrubas said. “[The registrars] are the only people, required by law, who can have access to those machines—when they’re being charged, when they’re being stored and especially after they have been programmed for the election.”

Mayor Bob Chatfield had a “brainstorm” as Blinstrubas explained the problem and took her aside to propose a solution, inspiring jokes about backroom dealings among council members.

When they came back, Chatfield said he’d found a solution.

“What we’re going to do is build a cabinet from the vault door to the edge of the door of the registrars’ office,” he said, “from the floor up to the ceiling; put two locking doors on it, not cheap doors, but good, sturdy doors. … We’ll put another socket in there; that should solve the problem. I can do that out of the repair account.”

A vote was not taken, but there seemed to be a consensus that the idea was sound.

Another increase in the registrars’ budget is in the voter canvas line item, which will increase by $1,500. Vander Eyk explained the new spending would cover a study of streets awkwardly split between voting districts and a mailing to inform voters of a change in polling venue in November, when voters who previously went to Algonquin School on Election Day will cast their ballots at the firehouse.

All referenda will now be held at the firehouse, she said, including the March 30 vote on the Long River Middle School roof replacement project.

When all was said and done, the council voted to approve the $41,000 registrars’ budget, which is up 11 percent from 2009-2010.

Theresa Graveline abstained, wanting to explore a possible salary increase for the registrars, on account of their taking on new responsibilities that formerly belonged to the clerk.

“I have a little concern because I … do have the impression that the elections and registrars’ positions have duties that have changed, and I have a little concern that they are not being monetarily compensated for those additional duties,” she said.

The two registrars will split an $18,500 salary in 2009-2010 and requested a six percent overall (three percent each) increase for 2010-2011, to 19,600, but the mayor recommended knocking it back down to a flat $18,500.

The option of raising their shared salary may be explored at the next budget hearing, on Saturday.