Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fayette Surplus Remains Open for Board Action and Comment

An existing 1.7 million surplus (1.5 or so) will remain unallocated to local county-wide projects after the board of Fayette County commissioners tabled the item during today's business meeting.

Change reduces $1.5 million surplus in Fayette County
By Liz Zemba
Friday, May 23, 2008

Fayette County commissioners took no action on a proposal to divvy up a $1.5 million surplus from their 2006 budget after learning of a potential $700,000 problem with the current budget.
The board on Thursday voted unanimously to table any vote on the proposal until next month.

As introduced by Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink, the proposal calls for placing $1.2 million of the surplus into a capital reserve fund, $500,000 into an operating reserve fund and $50,000 into a capital project fund.

The motion indicates the surplus is $1.7 million, but Commissioner Vincent Vicites yesterday said it is actually $1.5 million.

During yesterday's meeting, commissioners did not give a specific reason for their decision to table the motion. Afterward, Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said he learned late Wednesday "of potential budget problems in the 2008 budget" that might impact the amount of the surplus.
Zapotosky said the controller's office advised him that a loan to a county agency of approximately $700,000 was improperly counted as revenue in the 2008 budget.

Budgeting error reduces county's projected surplus
By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard
Updated 05/22/2008 11:17:38 PM EDT

A proposal by Fayette County Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink to shift excess money from the general fund to accounts for capital improvements was tabled Thursday after the commissioners learned there is substantially less surplus money than originally believed.

An auditor working with the county controller's office discovered that $750,000 was incorrectly listed as revenue in the budget.

Upon learning that information, the commissioners unanimously voted to table a motion that included creating an operating reserve fund until next month. In making her motion to table the matter, Zimmerlink said she was doing so "based on information received at 9 a.m. this morning."

Commission Chairman Vincent Zapotosky said after the meeting that he learned Wednesday afternoon from Sam Lynch, an auditor of Susquehanna Group contracted through the county controller's office, that there was a $750,000 issue with the budget.

Zapotosky said the amount was incorrectly listed as revenue, which would decrease the anticipated surplus by $750,000.

"The bad news is the surplus is not as high as anticipated," Zapotosky said.

Zapotosky said additionally, the $1.7 million surplus is actually $1.2 million because $200,000 is earmarked for another purpose, which leaves the county's surplus at less than $800,000.

We found it odd at the time when there was no explanation of why the board tabled the items, but accepted as a good sign, no divvying up would occur, yet.

The agenda item was open to public comment prior to the determination by the board to take no action.

A few citizens commented during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

One man queried how did the county manage to acquire such an astounding surplus and suggested the monies should be returned to the taxpayers.

A suggestion to build a new county prison was also made.

One woman recommended no new spending and appeared to embrace the lock-box idea.

We noted about $600,000 of the surplus should be put toward the commissioners' constitutional duty to oversee conducting a long-overdue review and purge of the bloated voter registration database. Further we recommended the board pay off the loan for acquisition of a paper ballot based voting system used with precinct scanners and which supplemented the county's DRE eSlates. Our suggestion dismissed the potential for penalties as negligible upon Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink noting such could occur and would be considered by her in making her proposal for distribution of the monies.

As background, in action a couple of weeks ago, the board reportedly authorized the Election Bureau to begin putting forth a specific plan of action to remove the names of inelegibles from the voter registration listing.

Commissioners had also taken action in February to acquire the supplemental voting system which is paper based and utilizes precinct scanners to notify of overvotes and undervotes. The Hart Intercivic vendor the county opted to use years ago provides the two voting systems, eSlate and eScan.

A majority of the board, Chairman Vincent Zapotosky and Vincent Vicites, voted to authorize acquisition of approximately 113 eScans giving each precinct 1 machine to use in conjunction with paper ballots.

At the time, discussion centered on finances with questions about such arrangements figuring prominently in Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink's vote to abstain from a vote on the acquistion, and subsequently in later board action, declined participating in authorization for the funding plan.

Fayette officials buy paper-ballot machines
By Mary Pickels
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fayette County commissioners Wednesday agreed to purchase 113 eScan machines, giving voters a paper-ballot option to the eSlate machines in the April 22 primary election.
The purchase was approved by commissioners Vincent Zapotosky and Vincent Vicites.

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink abstained, stating that insufficient information had been provided for her to make an informed decision.

In March, the majority of the board voted (Vicites/Zapotosky) to part with approximately $170,000 remaining in a HAVA fund.

Before the new administration was sworn in, that amount was originally slotted to purchase additional DRE machines (eSlates), according to news reports, a measure offered by Commissioner Zimmerlink.

Fayette County holds line on taxes
By Liz Zemba
Tuesday, January 1, 2008 Commissioners included $170,000 in the budget for electronic voting machines, said Angela Zimmerlink, commissioner chairwoman.

Zimmerlink said her research has shown that 45 to 55 machines are needed to help reduce waiting times at polls. She added that voting lines will be cut by continuing public demonstrations of the devices and training poll workers.

Zimmerlink said she wants the board to approve the purchase during the next several days to expedite delivery.

See our sidebar information for how events unfolded over the course of some two months to press the board to consider the paper ballot with precinct scanners instead of purchasing more DRE eSlates.

VotePA has also posted an informative series on the voting integrity and security issues and gives a nod to our efforts:


The site also includes links to Laurels given to the board of county commissioners for the acquisition, but doesn't name those commissioners who approved the action.

In March, after lengthy discussion among the board of commissioners and with public input about the board's duty to provide clean and accurate elections despite the cost, the majority of the board (Vicites/Zapotosky) authorized the county to enter a financial agreement to pay off a $580,000 loan to acquire the eScans.

To show how important the fact of the $1.7 million surplus has become now, also in March, the board took action to sell 50 off the eSlates which were not needed to comply with the Help America Vote Act's requirements for handicapped accessibility.

Fayette has deal to sell 50 voting machines
By Liz Zemba
Friday, March 28, 2008

According to HAVA, one Disabled Accessible Unit (DAU) must be in place at each precinct to comply with the federal mandate if the state and county opt into the HAVA arrangements. Hart Intercivic's eSlates meet that requirement.

while the sale netted some amount of monies to help pay for a first year payment on the loan, some $400,000 plus would remain to be paid off over a 3-year period, according to reports and commissioners' meeting minutes.

Fayette ballot change may get boost
By Chris Foreman
Monday, March 3, 2008

Fayette's newest machines, called eScans, allow voters to mark their choices on a paper ballot that is fed into the system through a slot like a fax machine. The results are stored on a flash card and the ballot falls into a locked compartment.

The eScans join the county's eSlate machines, on which voters use a dial to rotate through the choices in each race before pressing a button to select a candidate.

Fayette used funding from legislation to fix voting irregularities claimed during the presidential election in November 2000 to cover most of the $1.22 million cost of the eSlates.

But Fayette officials said some senior citizens didn't like the machines, and more systems were needed to alleviate long lines at some precincts.

The county approved a $170,000 down payment for the eScans. It is covering the remaining cost over a three-year period using a loan with an interest rate of 4.23 percent.

So the following question arises and begs to be answered if the board determines it will not pay off a $580,000 loan now, but wait to follow through on the original 3-year loan arrangement.

When did any member or members of the board know of a county surplus which could have paid for the eScans and a voter registration purge upfront?

At any rate, at today's meeting the board tabled action on the distribution or allotment of the surplus.

Commissioner Zimmerlink noted the board had taken action on the purge process and her plan for the surplus included considering the loan arrangement, if it was prudent to pay off the loan given the potential to suffer penalties for early payment.

Zimmerlink also made a comment she's made before concerning the Election Bureau's ongoing process of reviewing the voter registration database. We fail to understand the argument since the voter registration rolls are obviously "bloated" containing some 89,000 plus names in a county which has lost population over the years and is about 114,000 if not less. She said the board had voted on the purge process earlier in May.

Chairman Zapotosky said the election director had been 'directed' to begin the purge process.

Since the board tabled the item regarding the surplus, it remains to be seen whether a good portion of the monies will go toward covering the loan for the purchase of eScan voting machines and the review/purge of the county database of voters.

Net the Truth Online


Non-voters still on Fayette rolls may be purged
By Liz Zemba
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Fayette County is considering purging its voter database of the names of thousands of voters who haven't cast ballots in at least the past five years.
"We have thousands of people on the rolls who have not voted," said commissioner Vincent Vicites during an agenda meeting Tuesday. "We've got to clear these rolls up."

On Thursday, commissioners will consider approval of a measure to initiate the purge process.

Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said routine purges already occur, but a more extensive effort is needed...

...Lint said there are only a few years where purges were not conducted. To identify non-voters from those years, she said she likely will suggest that commissioners approve mailing out notices to each of those individuals.

Zapotosky said he wants a plan to be approved in time for the purge to occur before the fall election. At the latest, he wants it accomplished by spring. He said a plan must be developed before any action is taken to ensure the purge is conducted in compliance with applicable state and federal laws...

Commissioners vote to move $1.7 million surplus
By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard
Updated 05/22/2008 12:06:05 AM EDT

The Fayette County commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to take action to move a $1.7 million surplus from the general fund to various accounts for future capital projects and spending, although they disagreed on how much should be earmarked for each account.

During Tuesday's agenda meeting, the commissioners approved a motion initiated by Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink that spells out how much would be placed into each account, although Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites pointed out that the exact amounts could be changed prior to Thursday's vote.

Zimmerlink's motion includes creating an operating reserve fund by allocating $500,000 to that account; apportioning $50,000 to the current capital project fund and placing $1,273,706 in the capital reserve fund, taking the money from the audited year ending Dec. 31, 2006, general fund unreserved balance.

The motion also includes a stipulation that all expenditures and transfers must be approved by a resolution of the commissioners that the county develops a capital budget for 2009 with the assistance of the auditing firm and eliminating the capital project account beginning in 2009.

New paper ballots a popular choice among area voters

By Rebekah Sungala, Herald-Standard
Updated 04/23/2008 12:17:12 AM EDT
While deciding who to vote for, Fayette County residents had one other choice to make: paper ballot or electronic machine.

This election was the first time people were able to choose whether they wanted to vote on the regular eSlate machines or use the new eScan machines.

The eScan machine is essentially a scanner that reads paper ballots marked by voters. County commissioners purchased 113 of the machines earlier this year from Hart Intercivic of Texas after people complained the electronic machines, purchased in 2006, were difficult to use...

Article Posted at Vote PA message board

Fayette officials buy paper-ballot machines
By Mary Pickels
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fayette County commissioners Wednesday agreed to purchase 113 eScan machines, giving voters a paper-ballot option to the eSlate machines in the April 22 primary election.
The purchase was approved by commissioners Vincent Zapotosky and Vincent Vicites.

Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink abstained, stating that insufficient information had been provided for her to make an informed decision.

With eScan, voters mark their choices on a paper ballot and feed the ballot into the machine, which stores the results on a flash card...

...The county spent $1.22 million two years ago to replace its 30-year-old, lever-voting system with eSlate machines. Voters use a dial to rotate through the choices in each race before pressing a button to select a candidate.

Most of the funding was covered by the federal government through the Help America Vote Act of 2002, intending to fix voting irregularities during the presidential election in November 2000.

But some people found the eSlate system confusing, and long waits resulted at some of Fayette's larger precincts.

Yesterday, the board agreed to purchase the eScan machines at a cost of $580,000. Officials plan to place one machine at each of 103 precincts.

County Controller Sean Lally reviewed a financing plan county officials discussed earlier this week.

Supplier Hart InterCivic will finance the cost over three years, at an interest rate of 4.23 percent.

The county will apply $170,000 of this year's budget, previously allocated for more eSlate machines, to the eScan purchase price.

It will then make three annual payments of $150,000 each to Hart InterCivic, which also supplied the county's eSlate machines.

The commissioners discussed the possibility of selling up to 100 of the eSlate machines for approximately $1,500 each, potentially raising $150,000 toward the cost of the eScan machines.

"We're speculating on revenue (from eSlate sales)," Zapotosky said. "If those funds are available via the sale of eSlates, they will go into the note."

Lally said another funding source would have to be found if none of those machines are sold.

Yesterday's action did not include the cost of 300 to 400 privacy voting booths. Depending on whether corrugated cardboard or molded plastic is chosen, the cost could range from $5,000 to $12,600.

Fayette lacks funds to cull registration roll
By Chris Foreman
Sunday, May 13, 2007

Before last fall's election, Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink broached the topic of inaccuracies in the list of registered voters after hearing comments from candidates, party committee members and poll workers. Beyond that, the election bureau scans obituaries in local newspapers and collects information from precinct judges about citizens who might have moved, Fayette Election Director Laurie Lint said. The Department of State also advises that counties may implement an annual confirmation mailing program by sending a notice to all registered voters. But Fayette commissioners have never found room in the general fund for that expense. On her Net the Truth Online blog, Dee Young said she "almost jumped out of her seat" on March 22, when Fayette County Judge Steve P. Leskinen concluded after a four-day election challenge that the county should update its registration rolls. Young, of Uniontown, has been questioning the accuracy of voter databases for more than a decade. The political activist also served a term on the county's voter fraud committee before a 1999 grand jury issued its recommendation for a purge after the indictment of former U.S. Rep. Austin J. Murphy and two others for voter fraud at a personal care home. Fayette's rolls again came under inspection this spring after incumbent Controller Mark Roberts challenged hundreds of signatures on the petitions of his Democratic primary opponent, Sean Lally. Leskinen and Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Joseph F. McCloskey ruled that Lally had enough signatures to stay on Tuesday's ballot. In an interesting snag, Leskinen refrained from ruling on several women's signatures because of the possibility they might have married or moved since they registered but failed to inform the county. The Pennsylvania Voter Registration Act permits valid signatures by persons who have moved or married, or both, since the November 2004 election, even if they haven't filed a registration change, according to Leskinen's written opinion in the case. The exception is if the citizen already has voted once since moving. "I think that is unfortunate," Leskinen wrote. "I think that the database should be upgraded so that married names and addresses are updated more rapidly, but that requires the expenditure of money that the county evidently does not have."

Southwestern Pa. counties lose residents, gain voters
By Chris Foreman
Sunday, May 13, 2007

...Fayette leaders insist they're following state and federal procedures to maintain their rolls, although they haven't budgeted for a direct-mail campaign that could identify problem registrations.
After a population upswing from 145,351 to 148,644 during the 1990s, Fayette's residency slipped to 145,760 through July 1, 2006, according to the March U.S. Census Bureau estimate.

The number of registered votes has ticked steadily upward, with 89,377 listed through the April 16 close of registration.

"I certainly want to keep them as accurate as possible, but there is a significant cost involved if you purge," said Commissioner Vincent Vicites...

VotePA Article


March 3, 2008 -- Citizens in Fayette County recently helped guide their County Commissioners to a choice of voter-marked and verified paper ballots with scanners rather than spending $170,000 to purchase more Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machines.

Concerned about long lines, the Fayette County Commissioners were considering the purchase of 55 more Hart / Intercivic eSlate DRE machines as additional equipment for the April 22 Pennsylvania Primary and the November General Election.

The eSlate does not offer a voter-marked or voter-verified paper trail in Pennsylvania. In addition, many Fayette voters, especially seniors, were unhappy with the machine's "dial-a-vote" interface.

Through the diligence of resident Delinda Young, other citizens in the County, and statewide members of VotePA, the Commissioners were informed of a paper ballot alternative. The eScan interfaces with software and equipment the county already owns and would allow the majority of voters to cast a paper ballot marked simply using a pencil.

Commissioners and local press received facts on the performance and costs of DRE machines versus scanners in other states, as well as updates on pending legislation to require paper ballots. Several lively discussions were held on local radio talk shows and at meetings.

The multipartisan informational effort was successful on February 6 when the Board voted by a 2-1 margin to purchase 113 precinct count eScan machines to cover their 103 precincts, giving the majority of Fayette County voters the opportunity to cast a true voter-marked and voter-verified paper ballot to protect their 2008 presidential and congressional choices.

Here are some links to news articles regarding the Fayette County decision:

Fayette ballot changes may get boost
by Chris Foreman,Tribune-Review

Fayette officials make deadline to buy scanners
by Liz Zemba, Tribune-Review

Fayette commissioners consider new voting machines
by Chris Foreman, Tribune-Review

Fayette studies different types of voting machines
by Mary Pickels, Tribune-Review

Vote PA Message Board Feb. related material Fayette purchase paper ballot scanners

This article will be updated with links to follow.

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