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Kandiyohi County Board approves an election plan under federal act

WILLMAR -- A plan to purchase, store, maintain, repair, insure, program, test and operate new voting equipment was approved Tuesday by the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners. The election equipment plan was required under the federal Help America Vote Act.

Representatives from some of the county's townships, school districts and cities attended the public hearing on the plan, but there were few questions and little public input offered.

Federal money will cover the cost of purchasing the required assistive-voting machines, which will allow people with disabilities to vote independently and privately.

Grant money will also cover the cost of purchasing optical-scan counting machines that will allow votes to be counted at each precinct, instead of using the central count system at the county office building.

Sue Morris, a supervisor from Fahlun Township, asked how much it will cost the local entities to program the machines for the elections. County Auditor Sam Modderman said he's been trying to get that information, but the company that makes the voting machine that has been approved by the Minnesota Secretary of State has been unable to provide an accurate estimate.

Federal funds will be used to cover programming costs for the 2006 primary and general election, but the federal allocation of $600 per precinct may not be enough. Under the plan, the county will pay for 25 percent of any additional costs and the city or township will pay 75 percent of the cost for each machine assigned to their polling place. Morris said it was difficult for the townships to prepare their budgets without knowing how much it will cost them to operate the machines.

Modderman said because there are so many variables in ballots for different precincts, it's difficult for the company to predict how much it will cost to program the machines. Willmar City Clerk Kevin Halliday asked if the county would consider picking up a greater percentage of the programming cost for primary elections, which usually don't include any city races.

Local jurisdictions are responsible for the entire programming costs for special elections specific to their area.

School districts may also be charged a fee to use the machines.

Once the county receives the grant money, it will purchase the machines, which will be stored in the county office building. Each precinct will be given a specific machine to use during the elections and will pay for maintenance work on its machine. Modderman said the company has estimated it will cost $200 a year for basic maintenance on the machines -- whether there's an election or not. He said he and Halliday have agreed the maintenance can be done in-house to reduce the cost.

In response to the Help America Vote Act and mandate to purchase the assistive-voting machines, some precincts are sharing their polling places to reduce the cost of operating and maintaining the machines.

If townships and cities change their mind and decide to conduct elections in their separate polling places in the future, the individual entities will have to pay the entire cost of purchasing the machines. The assistive-voting machines are estimated to cost $7,000.

In other action the board:

- Directed Terry Kaiser from Environmental Concepts and Design Inc. to proceed with plans to design the next phase of development at the county's sanitary landfill. A new segment of the landfill will be constructed in 2006 that will extend the life of the facility until 2016. The board agreed that certain engineering steps should be taken now that will set the stage to develop the landfill through 2026. Commissioner Richard Larson said the board should also look at alternatives for the future, including a waste-to-energy proposal that's being explored for Redwood Falls.

- Approved vacating a portion of county road right of way in front of four residential lots on Green Lake at the request of the landowner, Sharon Norling. The existing right of way is 4 to 5 feet in front of Norling's garage door. Incorrect plats and a previous variance resulted in the situation.

- Approved a new policy that will prohibit dogs with aggressive or vicious tendencies and exotic or wild animals at the county parks. The action was taken at the request of park managers who have had problems with campers who have brought such animals to the parks.

- Approved an increase in the annual compensation the commissioners receive for serving on the county board. The 2006 salary will be $26,020. In 2005 it was $24,780 and in 2004 it was $23,600. The $70 stipend for attending meetings remained the same.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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