Approving the election results was one of numerous actions taken Thursday on a loaded agenda during the Lebanon County Commissioners’ bi-weekly meeting.
Michael Anderson, Director, Bureau of Elections/Voter Registration said the county’s elections office did not receive any official objections, which were due at his office on Wednesday, for the county’s final election results.
While accepting a motion to approve the results, elections board chairman William Ames said the handling and computation of votes by the county’s bureau of elections was “impeccable and above reproach.”
After the elections board, consisting of the county commissioners, approved the certification motion, Anderson discussed the “three day” ballot issue, which concerns mail-in ballots received during the three-day period from 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3 through 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.
Of the 130 mail-in ballots that were received during that time period, only 14 arrived without an official postmark while the other 116 arrived with postmarks by 8 p.m. Friday. Anderson said the “three day” votes still haven’t been counted due to a legal challenge of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that’s now before the US Supreme Court concerning the legitimacy of those votes.
The commissioners agreed, based on prior action at a previous meeting and Anderson’s recommendation, to continue to hold the ballots until the issue is resolved.
“Nothing has changed, but we did receive additional guidance from the Department of State that if we decide to count them, to then do a separate computation of those ballots,” Anderson said. “My advice is to stay the course because counting them at this point will only muddy the water a little bit. They say we can count them but not put them in our count but I think that is confusing, at best.”
During the Zoom meeting, Anderson pointed to a large, clear plastic container where those 130 votes are being segregated until a decision is reached by the US Supreme Court.
Ames, who is a Republican, voiced his disapproval of the mail-in voting system, calling it flawed but also noting that Lebanon County did the job it was directed to do by the state legislature and the courts. He said, without providing any details, that the system needs to be improved.
“The avalanche of mail-in votes put more pressure on election officials,” he said. “The more voted you have come in puts more pressure on them to do a perfect job.”
Ames added that the courts should not be determining the process and procedures for voting and that it is constituted for the state legislature to handle those proceedings. He called upon legislators to take a look at what election officials went through and to come up with solutions for the future.
Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, who serves as the minority Democratic county commissioner, respectfully disagreed with her colleague’s assessment of the mail-in voting process.
“It went as well as could be expected during a national crisis in America,” Litz said, in reference to the coronavirus pandemic while also noting the county has only 130 votes that haven’t been officially tallied. “…It was a Godsend to have that (mail-in voting) available and I want to thank all those people who worked to make it happen.”
Commissioner Robert Phillips said that 25 percent of directors of election bureaus statewide resigned prior to the Nov. 3 election, noting those individuals “threw up their hands and left their respective counties in the lurch” by resigning their posts.
“I want to give a tip of the hat to Michael and his team for their endurance and for how they handled the challenges that were presented to them,” Phillips said.
In other county business, the commissioners voted to approve the second round of CARES grant funding to businesses negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 300 applications seeking a requested $7 million in funding were received. However, only $3.5 million is available for businesses in the second round of CARES grant funding.
Instead of funding fewer businesses and non-profit organizations at 100 percent of their requested funding, it was decided to fund all businesses and non-profit organizations, who met the funding criteria guideline matrix, at 77 percent. A total of 195 businesses and nonprofits met the funding criteria guidelines and will receive $3.475 million in grant allocations.
Litz noted that if the state allocates more money to the county, which may happen in December, then the county would be able to distribute 100 percent funding to those businesses and groups receiving 77 percent in the second round.
Phillips and Ames disagreed with that assessment. Phillips noted there may not be enough additional funding to reach 100 percent while Ames said that he did not remember the commissioners making that decision.
Ames said if additional monies become available, then a discussion and decision will have to be made on who gets that funding, adding that it may not necessarily be those 195 businesses and nonprofits in the second round – especially since “some folks have been excluded from the process.”
Jamie Wolgemuth, Chief Clerk/County Administrator, said county employees needed about three weeks before disbursing round one funding and that staff would work diligently again to get businesses and groups in round two paid as quickly as possible. Wolgemuth added that all grantees must be vetted to ensure they don’t owe back taxes, which would have to be addressed before funding would be released to any entity whose tax bill is delinquent.
Wolgemuth added that he participates in monthly calls with state auditors who have told him that other counties, who received CARES funding before Lebanon County after federal CARES dollars earmarked for the country were initially withheld by the Wolf administration, still have not released funding to their local businesses.
That comment led Wolgemuth to praise the exceptional work performed by county workers who have labored diligently to get funding quickly to those local businesses crippled by the ongoing pandemic.
In other business related to CARES funding, the commissioners voted 2-1 to pay outstanding expenditures related to the CARES grant in the amount of $981,282.60, including $489,000 for the Mask Up Lebanon public education campaign and $48,000 to 12 local municipalities for their coronavirus-related expenditures.
As part of its $12.8 million CARES Act grant, which provides economic relief to businesses and organizations that have been negatively affected by the pandemic, Lebanon County is required to earmark $2.8 million for a public education campaign to encourage mask wearing among county residents.
Commissioner Ames voted against paying the bill because the Mask Up campaign, which he has been vehemently opposed to, was lumped together with all CARES Act-related expenses. At prior meetings, Ames has voted against paying the Cares Act grant expenditures because of his opposition to the education campaign.
“…Understand that it (my position) is not against, obviously, the municipalities and some of the other things but because it is grouped together with this Mask Up campaign that has been forced down our throat by the Wolf administration,” Ames said. “… I am still waiting for the positive results from this great expenditure of money. It seems that our numbers are going up with everyone else’s. So I am glad that we’re using vendors locally and I’m glad that local businesses are getting part of this (Mask Up funding), but as we saw earlier this morning, we were not able to meet the needs of the businesses who need funding directly to keep their businesses going.”
Wolgemuth said about $400,000 is still available for the Mask Up campaign and that he has made a request with the Wolf administration for permission to shift that funding for businesses who need financial assistance.
In other county business, the commissioners:
- Approved a Next Generation Loan, which comes from the Department of Community and Economic Development, for a new 133-acre organic farm at 39 Golf Road in Myerstown.
- Selected Fares Farhat General Construction, LLC of Halifax, Dauphin County at a cost of $65,432.10 for construction of a driveway at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility. This company was the low bidder of the 11 that were received for the project.
- Agreed to spend $737,000 to finalize the purchase of Camp Shand. A total of $725,000 is for the camp itself plus $12,000 for transaction fees associated with finalizing the sales agreement with the Lancaster County YMCA.
Read More: Lebanon County buys Camp Shand from Lancaster Y, acreage to be preserved
- Learned that they will be asked at their next meeting on December 3 to finalize a sales agreement with Lebanon city to purchase their space within the municipal building and a garage, located on Oak Street in Lebanon.
- Approved a request to amend the fiscal year 2019-20 budget to account for an overage of $621,546 so that the county can apply for additional Act 41 funding to cover the additional costs associated with an unexpected rise in the number of youth placed in youth and probation services through the department of Children & Youth Services this year.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during previous election cycles. Ames Home Services is a current advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.