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Chippewa County, Wis., Invests in New, Secure Voting Machines

County officials voted to spend $400,000 to replace aging voting machines before the state decertifies them.

(TNS) — CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. — Chippewa County will be buying new voting machines, and they should be available by 2021.

The board voted 13-1 to spend $400,000 on the new equipment. Supervisor Chuck Hull cast the only vote against it.

“The concern is they will be decertified in the next few years. They are approximately 15 years old,” county Administrator Randy Scholz said.

The new machines have a touch screen but also would print off a paper ballot, County Clerk Jaclyn Sadler said.

“Nothing is connected to the internet; nothing can be hacked,” Sadler said.

Sadler said she doesn’t want to wait until machines break down or are determined to be obsolete.

“Right now, the equipment we have they no longer manufacture,” Sadler said. “If anything goes down, they do have replacement parts. We have 40-41 voting locations and 80 machines. We’ve been told by the state they will decertify our equipment in about five years.”

The decision was made to wait to buy and implement the equipment in 2021 so election workers aren’t learning a new system during the 2020 presidential election.

The money will come from sales tax revenue.

The board voted on allocating sales tax dollars on a variety of other projects in 2019. The county collects about $5.5 million annually from the half-percent sales tax. The county, by ordinance, automatically uses $1.41 million of that money as a property tax credit. By resolution, sales tax dollars can only be spent on capital purchases and not on salaries.

The board agreed to spend sales tax dollars on the following:

• $1,545,000 for debt service.

• $1,300,000 for highway and bridge construction projects.

• $300,000 for the radio system replacement.

• $215,000 for computer replacement purchases.

• $130,000 for the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport capital improvement projects.

• $100,000 for roof repairs at the courthouse.

• $100,000 for a county stewardship fund.

• $175,000 for nonhighway vehicle replacement.

• $100,000 for HVAC upgrades in the courthouse.

• $200,000 to replace the cooling tower/air conditioning unit at the courthouse.

• $100,000 for software for the sheriff’s office.

Supervisor Larry Willkom said he would like to see more of the revenue be returned to the taxpayers and not go toward capital purchases. He voted against several of the proposals.

The board also heard an update on overhauling its emergency radio system at a cost of $6.3 million. The project includes placing all the radio systems on 10 towers throughout the county and buying the handheld radio consoles.

Some of the radios are located on water towers in Bloomer, Cadott and Cornell as well as the courthouse.

Plans to upgrade the radio system have been in the works for years.

“We’ve been putting dollars aside for this project since 2013,” county finance manager Melissa Roach said.

Consultant Jeff Nelson said the first phase of the project is underway now at a cost of $2.2 million. He said bonding will be done to cover the rest of the project.

Roach said she anticipates the county will borrow $6 million: $4 million for the radio system and $2 million for highway projects.

“Radio systems are expensive to maintain,” said county emergency management director Dennis Brown.

The board also voted to create another maintenance position in the Highway Department. State maintenance dollars will pay for some of the cost of the position.

©2018 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.