Crawford County is searching for a new election and special projects coordinator.
Crawford County justices of the peace approved funding for six months for the coordinator’s salary and benefits at their budget and quorum court meeting Tuesday night. The position was created in November.
Bill Coleman, Crawford County election commission chair, provided JPs with a description of the position and duties, and Crawford County Judge Dennis Gilstrap, who requested the position, spoke on its need.
“The priority of this position would be the election coordinator and as you can see, the duties are quite lengthy,” Gilstrap said.
Essential election duties and responsibilities include handling the election budget, monitoring election laws, overseeing polls, and handling voting software and hardware. The list of duties is more than four pages long.
In years that hold less demands for attention to elections, the coordinator would spend more time on other special projects overseen by the county judge’s office, such as floodplain management, Gilstrap said.
Coleman told JPs that growing election duties have made the need for a full-time coordinator more urgent. He also noted that the county was helped by contracting a coordinator to oversee 2016 general election.
“Thing went much smoother this election - much more so than in the past,” Coleman said.
A question from JP Carrie Jernigan about who handled the election duties in previous years ignited a debate about how the position should be funded.
Gilstrap’s request presented a salary and benefits package that would be paid for equally between the county road department and the election commission. Each would pay $22,443.88 - a total of $44,887.76 for salary and benefits.
After learning that the county clerk’s office had handled many of the election duties in the past, JP Elaina Damante suggested the clerk’s office should fund half the coordinator budget.
Crawford County Clerk Teresa Armer objected, and told JPs that her office had taken on more responsibilities because of new state laws and she needs to retain her current employees.
“We don’t have time to do everything the law requires my office to do on top of election commission duties,” Armer said.
Damante argued that Armer had been approved for her current number of staff because they handled election duties.
JPs Mary Blount and Stanley Clark stepped in, stating that Armer should be given an opportunity to collect information to justify whether she needs all of her staff.
As JPs were about to table the issue for a later meeting, Gilstrap asked if JPs would allow his office to fund the first six months of the coordinator position while JPs debate how to fund the remaining six months.
JPs agreed and approved the request as amended. A special budget meeting will be scheduled to discuss additional funding for the position.
A request to fund a previously approved budget request to maintain warning sirens in the county was tabled by JPs.
According to Armer, JPs approved the $30,000 request for warning sirens from the public safety fund during their budget process at the end of 2016.
The $30,000 goes to pay for repairs or batteries for the sirens, which are the only advanced warning for impending disasters such as tornadoes for many of the rural areas of the county.
Unfortunately, Armer’s budget book that holds a list of all departments and budget items did not have the page with the sirens request and it was omitted from the final budget ordinance and the anticipated revenue total, Armer said.
In addition, public safety only has a total of $27,148.32 - not enough to cover the entire request.
For the Tuesday budget meeting, Gilstrap requested that JPs approve $27,000 from public safety and $3,000 from the County General Fund to cover the approved budget item.
Multiple JPs including Jernigan asked Gilstrap if the $30,000 could be taken from the larger E-911 fund. Gilstrap told JPs he had looked into the possibility, but it is against state law to do so.
The state statute regarding 911 expenditures has a specific list of items for which the money can be used that does not include warning sirens.
JPs decided to table the request until the county attorney could advise on use of the E-911 fund for warning sirens.