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Costs mount as counties plan for recalls

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government River Falls, 54022
River Falls Journal
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

With a state Senate recall election, a recall primary and a Supreme Court recount, local election clerks are seeing their 2011 budgets fall apart.

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While it's difficult to plan for these unprecedented elections, St. Croix and Pierce county clerks figure the unbudgeted expenses will total about $25,000 for each county.

Those projections don't include the amounts each city, village and town will pay for poll workers and their own miscellaneous expenses.

When she prepared her 2011 budget last fall, St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell figured with spring and fall elections her office would spend $57,000. She expects the recall election, the recall primary and the Supreme Court recount will add $25,000.

Pierce County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm budgeted $55,690 for 2011 elections. He now expects the unanticipated elections and recount will add $24,000 to $32,000 to those costs.

Campbell estimates St. Croix's expenses will be $12,000 each for the recall primary and the recall election. That includes the cost of coding the election information, printing ballots, publishing election notices, paying the board of canvassers and staff overtime costs.

Campbell anticipates the turnout will be fairly high and is planning accordingly.

His largest costs are for ballots and programming voting machines, said Feuerhelm. Because he hasn't gotten the bill for that, he made a rough estimate that each election will cost the county $11,000 to $15,000.

The Supreme Court recount cost her county $3,000, said Campbell. The recount in Pierce County cost $2,000. Both counties were able to meet the recount deadline without working through the weekend as some counties did.

The cities, villages and towns pay their own poll workers and pay to print absentee voter notices and testing of electronic equipment notices.

Pierce County has 16 reporting units in the 10th Senate District.

Each unit will have a minimum of three workers on hand at all times and some will have five, said Feuerhelm. Some pay by the hour and some by the day. The poll workers will probably work 14 hours that day for a minimum of 42 worker hours per reporting unit.

St. Croix County has 41 reporting units, and again each is staffed with a minimum of three poll workers.

River Falls City Clerk Lu Ann Heckt estimates the recall primary will cost the city $5,000 and the recall election another $5,000.

The city has five teams, each with five regular workers and two poll chiefs. The poll workers are paid $7.50 an hour, and the chiefs are paid $9 an hour.

All have to come for an extra hour of training, the poll chiefs have two to three hours of duties before Election Day, and two poll workers will spend four hours handling absentee voting at nursing homes, said Heckt.

She said she has gotten a lot of requests for absentee ballots and expects to spend about $500 for those envelopes and mailings.

Since recall elections are so rare, it's hard to tell how many voters will turn out, and the numbers are her best guess. Heckt said voter turnout could either swamp poll workers or they'll find themselves twiddling their thumbs waiting for more voters to show up.

Both Campbell and Feuerhelm expect that most of the money to cover their unbudgeted expenses will come either from the counties' contingency or general funds.

Those transfers will be made at the end of the year after the clerks have determined if they can offset some of the costs by under-spending in other areas.

Campbell said she has met with the County Board's Administration Committee, advising it of the costs.

"They're very much aware that the elections budget will be over-budget, and they understand," she said.

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Judy Wiff
Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.
(715) 426-1049
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