MALONE - Franklin County's legislators are considering making two full-time voting machine technician positions part time.
The techs are responsible for the delivery of the voting machines, the poll site set-ups, testing the machines and collecting the machines after an election.
The change was agreed upon in October by the county Board of Legislators and Franklin County election commissioners Kelly Cox and Veronica King, but the 2014 budget maintained funding for the full-time positions.
When the commissioners approached the board about funding to renew the warranty on 24 of the county's 32 ballot-marking devices, the topic of cutting costs raised the question of whether the full-time positions are necessary. To pay for the three-year warranties, $7,500 was transferred from the county's contingency budget.
It would have cost an additional $6,000 to renew the warranty on the remaining eight machines, but the commissioners said those are easier to fix.
Cox, the Democratic commissioner, and King, the Republican commissioner, both agree the tech positions could be switched to part time, but they don't agree on when that should happen.
"For the last two years we've discussed it going part time, and they (the legislators) have put it in for full time," King said.
"I even told my tech last winter that he was going part time. We had talked about it, that if they want to go part time, then go ahead. In my opinion, you don't do it after the budget has been passed."
King said her tech has a family to support, and she doesn't think he can do that on a part-time salary, which would be about $13,000.
Cox contends that the role could be performed by two part-timers.
"Right now there is not enough work to keep them full time," Cox said.
With primary dates set at June 24 and Sept. 9, and the general election on Nov. 4, this is the offseason for voting machine technicians. Both commissioners agreed that all election staffers work overtime during election seasons.
"Savings wise, it'll be saving on vacation time, sick time, personal time, insurance and retirement," Cox said. "It's going to save all of that."
Cox said the county would save about $26,000 in salary costs, not including benefits. The savings on benefits would not be huge, however, because Cox's tech does not take retirement or health insurance, and King's tech opts for the individual health insurance plan, which is $12,000 cheaper than the family plan.
"My main point is, the budget's already been passed and the taxpayer is going to be paying for it whether they cut them or not," King said.
During the board meeting last Thursday, several legislators questioned the necessity of having two full-time techs.
King made her case that the position shouldn't be switched after the budget was passed. Legislator Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, disagreed.
"All the departments in here are doing the same thing. They've all cut costs, and they've had to get rid of people because they didn't need them," Dabiew said. "So we find something after the budget is passed, and we should just close our eyes and not look at it? I understand that during election time at the polls you're really busy, but there's all the rest of the time in between."
Dabiew then asked if the commissioners and their deputies could be trained to handle the techs' duties. Cox said that is possible, and she added that many counties do it that way, including Clinton County, which has two part-time people plus two people they hire just during election time.
King disagreed and said it isn't feasible considering the workload at election time.
"Who's going to train people when there's no one there?" King said. "If my tech leaves, there's no one there who knows those machines as good as he does. So you're willing to pay $4,500 to have someone trained, but you're not willing to let him stay for the rest of the year?"
It would cost $4,500 for two people to take a two-day on-site training course on the Election Management System program. The commissioners said currently two people, including Cox, are trained on the voting machines and three are trained on the EMS program. Those three include the two deputy commissioners.
Once someone is properly trained, he or she is then qualified to train others.
Dabiew was quick to respond to King.
"You're talking $26,000 a year in wages and benefits," Dabiew said. "If you train the deputies and yourselves (on the EMS program), we won't need anybody else."
Board Chairman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, sympathized with King but said the county needs to save money where it can.
"To me, the question is, 'Do we need those people there right now? Are they busy?'" Jones said. "I think we got an answer. As far as the budget goes, it's not any easier to put somebody part time or lay somebody off in October or January or March or April or May, to my conscience. Do I like to do it? Absolutely not."
Jones said he had to help make many difficult decisions that involved cutting jobs during his first term as board chairman. He added that he doesn't look forward to being part of that discussion again.
"If there's a way to cut costs and we don't need these employees, I think we have to seriously look into it," Jones said. "It's not something anybody wants to do; it's something we have to do it. County government is running so tight right now, we have to do it. We're also doing it in places where people are busy."
The board hasn't yet made a decision on the fate of the full-time positions. The next county board meeting is Thursday, March 20.
Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.