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Berkeley Co. needs more up-front money for machines

July 21, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Half of the money Berkeley County, W.Va., officials need to convert to touch-screen voting machines for the 2008 elections can not be borrowed from the state's interest-free, revolving loan program, county commissioners were told Thursday.

The prospect of paying half of the $480,500 bill for 155 Ivotronic voting machines appeared a bit unsettling to commissioners Howard L. Strauss, Steven C. Teufel and Ronald K. Collins, who last week voted unanimously to make the purchase with a loan to be paid back to the state in five years.

"Personally, I would rather have had that information last week," Strauss said of the apparent oversight discovered by Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Hammond after the commissioners' vote.

Voters Registration supervisor Bonnie Woodfall said Thursday she simply forwarded the guidelines concerning the voting machine loan program to commissioners the day of their meeting last week and was not aware of the matching money requirement. County Clerk John W. Small Jr., the county's chief election officer, made no mention of the requirement in his appearance before the Commission last week, either. He didn't offer an explanation Thursday when contacted.

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Ireland's spokesman Ben Beakes confirmed Thursday the 50 percent match requirement was part of a plan announced by Ireland in March 2005 to meet federal voting standards.

"It's been in place from the get-go," Beakes said.

The money for the voting machines is expected to be paid with money not spent in the 2005-06 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The amount of county money left to earmark for the current budget was not available Thursday, but commissioners continued to add to a "wish list" of projects they would like to fund. The unencumbered balance last year topped $4.8 million.

Before the voting machine purchase, commissioners already committed $500,000 for additional personnel at the county's new judicial center and another half-million for Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board.

"There's not a lot left over now," said Teufel, who is advocating $100,000 or more be allocated to the Berkeley County Fire Board.

That money would be used in grant applications as matching funds and other projects, Teufel said. He is the commission's representative on the group's board.

"I'm trying to support that board as much as possible," Teufel said. He cited the need for a new fire station in Hedgesville, W.Va., and another project for Bedington in north Berkeley County.

"Now things are starting to get tight on me," he said

The list of more than 20 projects includes the Inwood, W.Va., stormwater management project, judicial center expenditures, law enforcement vehicle purchases and requests from Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (PanTran) and the Child Advocacy Center.

The Commission is not expected to make a decision regarding the allocations until August. Hammond said it is usually done by the end of this month.

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