At Tuesday night's county commissioner meeting, Luke Bateman who serves as the Chairman of the Macon County Board of Elections was tasked with approaching the board to request a budget amendment to the 2013-14 fiscal year budget to the tune of just over $41,000 – a sum required to carry out the primary election set to take place in May.
According to Bateman, the shortfall is a result of an incident that occurred back in January when it was discovered that a sum of $50,000 had been paid out to various individuals with little or no verification. An investigation is still being conducted by the State Board of Elections and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations.
“We were able to appropriate some election fees and move some transfers over and the amount that we are asking to use from the contingency fund is $41,458,” said Bateman.
According to N.C. Statutes, the county is responsible for carrying out elections.
“Our duty by statute is to run that office, conduct this election that is coming up and we're prepared to do that. We've made all the cuts that we can. We're trying to be as diligent as we could with what we have left and what is required by law for us to do. We feel pretty good about this number considering our circumstances,” Bateman said.
After passing out a budget breakdown, he pointed to the line item for election expenses declaring it as the main reason for the request. The money would be used to fund ballots, absentee ballots, poll workers, etc.
“This is a big lick. Everybody has taken a beating on this. We get asked daily about what's going on,” said Commissioner Paul Higdon. “The question is, when does this end?”
According to Bateman, the State Board of Elections is in control of the investigation and has the final decision regarding the fate of Board of Elections director Kim Bishop. After implications of embezzlement were made, she was placed on paid leave until the investigation concludes.
“So let's be clear, the County Board of Commissioners really has no say in this,” said Chairman Kevin Corbin.
Since a public hearing had already been declared for April 29 to discuss other matters, Corbin suggested that the board review the line items that had been dispersed earlier and come back to the issue at that meeting for a decision.
County Finance Officer Lori Hall told the board that there is currently $104,000 left in the contingency fund, enough to fund the shortfall and to have remaining funds.
“Basically statutorily and budgetary, we have to make this department run,” said Hall. “It's a bad situation, but it is what it is.”
Commissioner Ronnie Beale suggested that the board go ahead with the approval.
“We've got an election coming up on May 6 and we can postpone this if we want to, but I make a motion that we go ahead and approve the money to be placed there out of the contingency fund,” he told the board. “It's hard to stomach, but that's just the way it is.”
Commissioner Ron Haven seconded the motion saying that he believes that, “it has to be done.” It passed unanimously.
“In the end, if a party or parties are found responsible for the missing money, are they going to be asked to pay restitution?” asked Corbin.
“Potentially yes, but I wouldn't count it until you have it in your hand,” County Attorney Chester Jones informed the board.