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Commission delays precinct vote

Discussion of consolidating voting precincts in Covington County continued Monday morning during the County Commission Meeting, with Opp being first on the list, but motions to vote on the change were postponed.

County Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips said the move could save a lot of money, and the precincts could potentially be reduced by more than 50 percent. There are currently 37 precincts in the county, and the original consolidation proposal would reduce those to 27. An additional alternative proposal to incorporate precincts within towns could reduce that number to 14, according to Phillips.

"Union Grove is also in the process of being accepted into the county as a precinct," she added, "and if that happens, there could be 15 total precincts."

Commissioner Glen Powell questioned the move, wondering how much money will be saved. Commission Chairman Greg White also asked Phillips if more supplies, such as voting machines, would need to be funded for the move.

"In federal funds, we have received $5 million statewide to improve new materials for voting," said Phillips. "We stand to get $12 million more from the (federal) government."

Additional revenue through the grants would be used for supplies and educating poll workers on proper procedures to name a few, said Phillips.

Phillips added the additional grant to the probate office could come if applied through the Secretary of State, Nancy Worley.

White recommended the proposal wait until members know how much money will be saved by the consolidation. He also voiced concern over the ability for some of the towns in the county to support the extra voters.

Phillips said as long as the precincts don't exceed 600 voters in the consolidations there would be sufficient space.

"I think the number of locations to be provided for would be covered," she said. "Under HAVA (Help America Vote Act), we are able to consolidate these precincts, and it is even recommended to us as a factor of saving money. I don't believe we would have to build any new voting places as a result to the consolidation."

Phillips added the county may not be able to lease the voting machines, which it has done in the past, and the probate office may have to buy new machines. But money would be available through federal grants if that were to occur, she said.

"They'll (federal government) have to accommodate us if they change any of the equipment," Phillips added. "The machines must be ones that tally votes."

White tabled discussion of the consolidation, arguing the commission will have to compare additional data on the change at a future meeting.

"I have spoken to several voting groups, and no negative thoughts have been voiced against the consolidations," Phillips said. "They're for saving money."

In a separate effort to save money, the commission unanimously approved a change in the pay period for county law enforcement.

Overtime currently starts at 43 hours for county employees, but the commission added a stipulation. Overtime will show up for every 171 hours worked during a 28 day pay period starting Nov. 1. For example, a deputy who has worked 173 hours in a 28 day period will receive two hours of overtime pay.

Commission Administrator Brenda Petty said the change is in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and will save money on overtime costs.

"This will allow more pay period flexibility, and they will run more efficiently," Petty said. "The pay period will continue to be every two weeks."

The commission also unanimously agreed to accept bids for portable stalls and ceiling fans at the Covington Center Arena in preparation for the 2004 High and Junior High School Rodeo State Finals in June.

The contract is part of a joint effort of a number of local groups including the municipalities of Andalusia, Opp, and Florala, and it will call for rentals of approximately 225 portable stalls and a number of ceiling fans.

The budget for the finals is about $30,000, and bids for the fans and stalls will be accepted by building manufacturers.

The commission also approved the purchase of a van for the Sheriff's Department, which will be used to transport up to five prisoners. The vehicle will replace the one in current use.

According to White, the immediate action taken on the purchase was appropriate because the amount of time for the van to be delivered is uncertain.