Wonky Wednesday: 2021 Budget Performance by the OCBOE

Welcome back to #wonkywednesday. Each week I take a deep dive into the electoral and voter registration data that makes up our home here in Onondaga County and across New York State. Each year I look at the measurable statistics to gauge how the Board of Elections performed in the previous year. This week I look at the final metric, our budget performance. In early April, the Onondaga County Comptroller finalized the County books for the year of 2021. This is part of our annual report to lawmakers released this week and will be released to the public shortly.

For 2021 The Onondaga County Board of Elections was spent $2,479,400.04 in local dollar appropriations. Of this appropriation 37% was spent on permanent employee salaries and Overtime, 20% on Employee Benefits, 16% on Supplies and Election expenses, 14% on Inspectors and part time seasonal employees, 11% on Interdepartmental charges, and 2% on debt service. We also spent $275,839.29 on a variety of Grant expenditures. 47% of the expenditure was from the federal shoebox Grant which covers training of inspectors and purchase of Election equipment, 23% was from our cybersecurity grant for various security installs around our building, 155 was from the 2021 Early Voting Grant to offset EV costs from NY state, 12% from the CTCL Grant which were left over expenses from the 2020 election, an just 3% from our TIER grant for Capital improvements.

For the 2021 Election cycle the Onondaga County Board of Elections requested a budget of $2.86 million. The County Legislature only approved a budget of $2.65 million. The OCBOE only spent $2.48 million, well under both our initial ask and the approved budget. When determining a budget, the Commissioners ask for a full allotment to run a full county primary and general election in a local year like 2021. This is done in the summer of the previous year not knowing the extent of the primary. The legislature and County Executive then alter our budget. Sometimes they reduce it assuming we will not have a full primary. In 2021 they were right as we had only a primary in the City of Syracuse, significantly reducing costs. Only two years since 2013 did the OCBOE not only exceed the legislative budget and also our request (2016 & 2018). As you will see a good deal of the budget then were charges beyond our control.

Our local budget is broken up mainly into three different areas. Direct Appropriations represents the portion of the budget where we have direct control over the spending. This represents local dollars that come directly from the County taxpayers. We asked for $1.94 million which represented our best guess for expenditures if we were to run a full primary for June along with a local election for November. The Legislature only approved 1.73 million. We only spent 1.68 million coming in under budget for the third straight year. As you can see since 2013, we only exceeded direct appropriations in the years 2016, 2017, & 2018. In each case the county legislature reduced the budget well under our ask and events on the ground forced us to exceed our appropriation. It should be noted we never exceeded our initial estimate of what we would need to spend.

The other portion of our budget is the Interdepartmental Appropriation. This portion of the budget represents charges to the Board of Election from other county departments. This usually represents charges from IT, Law, and the print shop. It also includes employee benefits. The OCBOE does not control either the creation of this portion of the budget or even approve charged. This is all overseen by the office of Budget and management. We came in significantly under budget in 2021 most likely due to printing less ballots because of our use of on-demand ballot printers as well as having a smaller than expected primary. It should be noted that the reason for our unsatisfactory budget performances in 2016 & 2018 were the interdepartmental charges, specially in 2018. We had a large number of legal cases and an unusual number of ballots that had to be printed due to the increased turnout.

The last portion of our budget is revenue. The Onondaga County Board of Elections is not a revenue generating department. The small amount of revenue generated comes from charging school districts and villages for use of our machines and personnel in their elections. We have successfully moved some villages to the November election reducing some of our revenues. We also get little to no revenue from printing lists and copies then we had in the past as we digitized our entire petition process allowing campaigns to save money and get images for free. We also see less reliance on our paper lists as campaigns are using mobile app based GOTV and canvassing systems.

Overall, the Onondaga County Board of Elections continues our efficient use of taxpayer dollars. We are one of the lowest dollars spent and budgeted per voter in the state as seen in the NYS Budget comparisons done earlier this last year. 2021 was a successful year as the OCBOE used our dollars wisely without compromising services.

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