After a dispute between the Cooper County Commission and Cooper County Clerk over the clerk’s budget, the commission has approved one that the clerk says she can accept with some minor adjustments.
Cooper County Clerk Sarah Herman sent a letter to the commission last Monday rejecting three of the commission’s budget proposals. They sent her a fourth and final option Friday that she says addresses her main concern, which was having a full-time voter registration clerk.
“I’m pleased to see that they could see my point of view on that,” she said.
Herman said there are still a few minor issues with the budget. The commission budgeted a 2 percent salary increase for her staff, though she says they earlier approved a 2.5 percent increase. They also didn’t include anything for overtime, which Herman said is going to be necessary with four elections this year.
The clerk’s budget has two parts that come out of the county’s general revenue, one for elections and another for the clerk’s other duties. County Clerk Sarah Herman requested $399,157 for those parts. The commission responded with three different options, ranging from $274,490 to $290,490, which Presiding Commissioner Don Baragary said was still “significantly higher” than the $251,230 they approved in 2019.
Herman rejected the commission’s options in a letter sent Monday. She said her request for $203,437 to run the everyday functions of the clerk’s office was “nearly identical” to the $161,910 budgeted for it last year, except for salary increases the commissioners already approved and a $17,000 contract with Boonville, which the commission has said isn’t legitimate or necessary.
She said in her letter that she would operate under the 2019 budget with the salary changes. Herman can’t do that, Baragary said. Only the commission has the authority to set the county’s budget, he said, citing a state statute that states, “the commission may alter or change any estimate as public interest may require and to balance the budget.”
On Friday, the commissioners sent her their final, approved budget that totaled $310,557. Baragary said that’s the end of their negotiations.
“We wanted to work with her, so we came up with a fourth option that we will live with,” he said.
Herman was especially concerned that the commission wanted to cut the election portion of her budget request. She requested a total of $195,720 for elections, including election judges, election equipment, postage for absentee ballots and a voter registration clerk. The commission approved an election budget of $164,320.
Each of the commission’s proposed budgets cut in half the amount requested for a voter registration clerk, which Baragary said should be a part time position. Herman said there’s no way it could be, especially in a presidential election year. The position was budgeted for $29,720 in 2019, and the office ended up spending $30,265. The commission ended up including the full $29,720 in its final budget.
The commission also denied Herman’s $2,000 request for election-related overtime, which she says is inevitable, even just considering that polls are open each election day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the office is required to be open several Saturdays for in-person absentee voting.
In the regular clerk’s fund, the commission denied the $21,000 Herman requested for human resources, which they had approved $21,000 for in 2019 and $14,500 for in 2018. Baragary said there wasn’t a line item for human resources before 2017, when it first appears with an expenditure of $6,300. It’s part of the role of the clerk’s office, so the commission rolled it into the clerical staff item, he said.
The commission approved $61,347 for clerical staff, which Baragary said included the $30,000 the office spent to outsource payroll and accounts payable, the $14,526 it spent on human resources and the $17,661 it spent on clerical staff. The office now has an employee working on accounts payable and payroll and isn’t outsourcing them, Herman said.
Herman’s office spent $210,495 of her $251,230 total budget in 2019, spending about $7,000 less than expected on human resources salary, and $10,000 less on clerical salary. That was a result of the HR employee moving into a clerical role mid-year and Herman not being able to find the right HR person who was willing to work part time, she said.
Her $40,000 request for election judges was $14,000 higher than the $26,287.67 the office spent on them during the last presidential election year in 2016. The commission countered with $30,000 to be more in line with the 2016 spending, but Herman said the judges would need additional training for the new election equipment, which they didn’t need in 2016. Herman said they’ll need a total of 60 election judges for the November election, compared to 32 in last year’s April election.
Herman said her requested election budget matched an estimate from the Secretary of State’s office that the state will reimburse the county $31,991.82 for the costs of holding the presidential preference primary, which was 85 percent of what the 2016 primary cost. Herman multiplied that by the four elections this year and added it to the cost of the required election canvassing, new election equipment and her staff, and it matched her request.
The commission agreed to buy new voting machines last year, adding about $22,000 to Herman’s budget for election equipment, which her office spent $1,934.21 on last year. Herman also requested about $21,000 more for election judges than the office spent last year, which she says is needed because there are four elections this year, including presidential elections, which draw the most voters.
Herman said running the elections is the most important part of her job, and she needs to make sure everything is run correctly. If she has to go over budget for things that she’s required to do, like opening the office on Saturdays for early voting, she will and will document everything for the state auditors to show that she had to.
“I was elected to do this job, and I’m gonna do it,” she said.