BROOKSVILLE — As former Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams was preparing last week to depart from the job she had held since 2000, she notified county commissioners of some unfinished business: She was leaving the office with a $100,000 operating deficit.
In a letter dated Jan. 4, Williams said that unexpected expenditures in connection with November's general election, coupled with $31,000 that was cut from her $874,000 annual budget, created the shortfall. She requested that commissioners add $50,000 to the office's 2012-13 budget.
Though commissioners did not discuss the letter during their meeting Tuesday, the last-minute notice did not sit well with commission Chairman Dave Russell, who blasted some of Williams' claims and criticized her lack of explanation for others.
"I'm a little disturbed to be learning this now," Russell said Wednesday. "It's a significant amount of money, and it hasn't been justified to my satisfaction."
The November general election was, by all accounts, record-setting. More than 68 percent of Hernando County's 123,865 registered voters cast ballots. Williams said she and her staff faced challenges that were beyond their control.
In her letter, the retiring supervisor blamed several unprecedented factors, such as the mailing of a record 27,799 absentee ballots, for the cost overrun. A two-page ballot was needed to list all of the races, plus 11 state constitutional questions. That, and the added cost of mailing the larger ballots, accounted for a $50,000 increase in costs, Williams said.
Also, she said, in addition to added personnel costs for processing and tabulating ballots, the office was forced to spend $25,000 to re-send 957 ballots that were lost in the mail.
Russell said that although he was aware of the elections office budget deficit before Tuesday's commission meeting, he plans to wait until a complete financial accounting of the election is completed before bringing the matter up before his colleagues. As to how to deal with the deficit, Russell said he wasn't sure whether the shortfall would be made up through a carryover or through reserves.
Incoming elections supervisor Shirley Anderson, who began work Tuesday, said she didn't have enough information regarding the budget shortfall and could not comment Wednesday on how she thought it might affect the operation of the elections office.
"We're looking into it," Anderson said. "Hopefully, we'll have some answers soon."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.