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Elections Board Looks over Budget before Senate Hearing

With some members heading off next week to a work conference in Houston, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections held a special meeting Thursday to discuss the details of its proposed 2016 budget, which will be reviewed before the Senate on Aug. 25.

The projected budget is $182,443, but Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes said Thursday that her concern is most of the money would be put toward the 2016 general election instead of some of the bigger items the system needs.

“With the finances of the territory being what they are, it could be that the senators approve just a bare bones budget and not capital improvements and, with the election coming up, that’s usually what the focus is on,” Fawkes said after the meeting. “It doesn’t usually go to the facilities, but it is critical that our employees have a good working environment and that’s been my big push this year.”

For the past month, the board has spoken about finding a space on St. John to replace its current office, which Fawkes said is not in good condition or compliant with American Disabilities Act requirements. Elections has been looking for space on St. John and had identified a few options but had to back off because of a lack of money, she said.

At last month’s meeting, the district board voted unanimously to allow Fawkes to look into the possible use and “acquisition” of the building attached to the system’s current office in Cruz Bay, and to see how federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds could be used to make the space in compliance with federal and local requirements.

“I have been looking since 2013 when I came on board, but we had no funding,” Fawkes said after the meeting. “I was in St. John as recently as two weeks ago and looked at some additional spaces, but I can look as much as I want. If there’s no funding from the Legislature, then we can’t execute a lease.”

Fawkes said it makes more sense for the system to lease a building, which could cost between $1,600 and $2,000 a month, than to renovate the existing one, which she explained also has leaks and storage issues.

Other expenses the board talked about Thursday were funding for information technology to help in the office during the upcoming 2016 election, along with a public relations contact that could be on-call before and after the election, as well as employee step increases.

Board members also looked at possible revisions to the V.I. Code that would allow for the hiring of an extra independent legal counsel. Fawkes said the code currently allows the board to hire its own legal counsel but does not provide for the hiring of one for the supervisor should she need it.

“Sometimes the supervisor would need a legal counsel outside of the one used by the board, but since that’s not authorized within the code, it’s something we need to look at,” Fawkes said. “We also need to look at funding to be able to put someone on retainer.”

The board went into executive session to discuss personnel and financial matters, including the hiring of a new deputy supervisor that will be voted on Friday by the Joint Board of Elections. Fawkes said she has recommended three candidates, but the Joint Board makes the final decision.

The Joint Board will be meeting on St. Thomas on Friday at 10 a.m.

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