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Elections department faced with shortfall as special election looms

Plumas County’s elections department has at least one special election and possibly two to prepare for and not enough money to pay the bills.

That was Plumas County Clerk/Recorder Kathy Williams’ news to members of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 5.

Williams requested $50,000 from the general fund contingency to cover the elections budget shortfall for the March 26 special election.

Supervisors voted unanimously to grant Williams’ request, but discussions centering on election costs took place.

As clerk/recorder, elections also falls under her purview.

In looking at projections surrounding the special election to fill a seat vacated by former state Senator Ted Gaines who was elected to the Board of Equalization in last November’s general election, Williams said there’s a good possibility a second special election will be needed.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the special election Jan. 18. “This action forced the 11 counties in the First Senate District to prepare for this election with only 69 days notice,” Williams explained in February. “If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one vote at this special election, we will have to conduct another special runoff election on June 4, 2019.”

The special election is vote-by-mail. At this time two Democrats and four Republicans are on the ballot in the special election.

The county general fund currently has $59,400. With elections taking the lion’s share of that, Plumas County has little wiggle room for funding considerations from other departments until the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

Williams said she’s been working with Plumas County Auditor Roberta Allen on the funding problem and where funding should come from within the county’s pots of money.

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said that if the county still had the original $300,000 in the general fund there wouldn’t be a question about granting the request. The county started the fiscal year with $300,000, beginning July 1, 2018.

Supervisor Michael Sanchez said that they really didn’t have a choice but to agree to fund elections. It’s “out of our hands,” he added.

Thrall even asked Allen if there was a possibility of transferring money from other departments.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire reminded them that the loan to the flood control district that Bob Perreault was granted last month would be returned to the county.

Williams said that it costs $4.63 for every mail-in ballot that is sent to registered voters. That covers initial and return postage. There are 12,337 mail-in ballots going out, according to her.

Williams said she is hopeful that the state will help support counties with special elections costs. The state doesn’t traditionally do that, but the California State Association of Counties and the Regional Council for Rural Counties are encouraging the state to reimburse counties for this special election.

Williams said that all of the county’s special districts that have held elections have reimbursed the county with the exception of the Plumas Hospital District. It owes $8,000 and Williams has billed that entity twice.

Williams said that elections could have requested the entire remainder of the general fund money and still fall short.

She said her staff does everything as frugally as possible, but there are some costs that can’t be changed.

She said that she could have asked Supervisors for less money, but then she would have had to return for additional requests.

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