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Improving election access

Fiscal court approves poll worker pay hike, accepts bids and reports

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

While he said he hated to ask for any extra money, Carter County Clerk Mike Johnston said the way the primary election was handled was problematic. That was partly because of the limited number of polling locations, and partly because of reports concerning the way poll workers acted towards voters. The problem, Johnston said, was an inability to draw enough workers who took their role seriously enough. But, he noted, the answer to both those problems – the lack of available workers and the quality of those workers – might be addressed by slightly increasing the amount paid to poll workers for their time.

“We need people that take it seriously,” Johnston told the court. Otherwise, he said, the county could, “really see a problem coming in November.”

To cover all the positions required, he said, would cost the county around $24,000 just for workers during the election. That doesn’t include their schooling. Johnston proposed raising their stipend for training from $35 to $40, and increasing election day compensation to $200.

It’s not an insignificant increase, he acknowledged, but, he said, “we need people that are dedicated and paying attention.”

“We don’t want to go down this road again,” he said of the confusion with some ballots during the primary.

He also voiced his support for a return to polling places within the voting precincts, noting his opposition to consolidating voting locations during the primary.

While Johnston said he knows both the pay increase and the staffing and outfitting of multiple voting locations must come from the county’s limited coffers, he also attributed lower voter turnout this primary election to some folks – particularly elderly voters – reluctance to travel as far to vote.

“I travel the county roads too,” Johnston said, a nod to the need for road improvements. “And I know money is short. But I feel this is important.”

Judge executive Mike Malone agreed with Johnston on the importance of the issue.

“If we’re going to have a democracy, we have to have clear elections,” Malone said. “I think we have to do it.”

Magistrate Donnie Oppenheimer, who has issued his own complaint about receiving the wrong ballot, made the motion with Morris Shearer offering a second and fiscal court voting unanimously to approve the request.

In other action the court moved to approve a request from the Grayson Street Department to purchase cold patch material from the county road department. Malone suggested giving the material to the city street department for cost, which none of the magistrates objected to. Malone said the city could pick it up on the day the county had it mixed, or shortly thereafter – as the cold patching material holds longer than traditional asphalt. He also extended the offer to the Olive Hill street department.

The court also opened and accepted bids from various vendors on pipe, surfacing materials and labor, hauling, gravel, and other items they are required to bid each fiscal year. Though they didn’t move to award any of the bids right away, Malone suggested the magistrates look them over and consider awarding more than one. Depending on where work is being done in the county, he said, the county could sometimes make up the difference in tonnage costs by saving on hauling if they went with a provider who was closer. As gas prices continue to rise, Malone said, that might become even more of a consideration.

Gas prices were certainly on the minds of department heads during their reports.

Jailer R.W. Boggs mentioned looking for smaller vehicles, for transports where only one inmate needed moved.

Ambulance director Rick Loperfido noted that, despite ending their fiscal year in the black, fuel costs were cutting into their budget as well.

Sheriff Jeff May said that his department had already used half their gas budget only five months into the year. It’s a real problem for a department that responded to more than 628 calls in April and 749 last month across the width and breadth of the county.

May also reported that his department made 79 arrests during the month of May, on top of other responses.

Road department head Jason Carroll is also aware of the issue, but despite the rising costs said his department is moving about with mowing, resurfacing and pothole projects.

In public comments the county heard from residents on Leander Lane who asked for that road to be taken into the county system. The court moved to begin that process, beginning with assigning magistrates from other districts to survey the road.

The court also heard from librarian Matthew Parsons, who is continuing to seek funding for the county library – including funds for the repair of the roof on the Grayson location.
“I’ve exhausted all avenues,” Parsons told the court, adding he knows the county’s financial situations means they won’t be providing the funding directly at this time, so he was “asking for advice,” on how to proceed until funding was available.

Magistrate Morris Shearer said he supported the library, but the county simply didn’t have the funds to commit at this time.

“I support it, but we don’t have it,” Shearer said.

Judged executive Malone did keep the door open to pursuing a tax for the library after December. He noted that the detention center will be paid off at that time and the county will “have more options.”

Following an executive session to discuss pending litigation, with no action taken, the court took one last action before adjourning.

Malone read a proclamation congratulating Levi Oney for his gold medal performance at the Special Olympics USA Games, and recognizing Jack Brammel, Titus McGlone, and Jamie Tiller from the East Carter Unified Club for their participation in the Youth Leadership Experience, and declaring June 16 Carter County Special Olympics and East Carter Unified Club Day. The court moved unanimously to adopt the resolution.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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