County to borrow $44 million for new voting machines, other projects and to refinance debt
Westmoreland County commissioners said Thursday they won’t wait for more state funding — which could become available later this year — to buy a new voting system.
“We have to move forward with this now so we have it in place before the presidential election. We want to make sure there are no hiccups,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.
Commissioners approved borrowing $43.9 million to pay for a series of capital projects and to refinance existing debt. About $8.2 million is expected to be spent on new voting machines that will meet a mandate from Gov. Tom Wolf that counties have voting systems with a verifiable paper trail by 2020.
The governor, in his proposed budget released this week, included $75 million in grants over the next five years for counties to upgrade voting systems.
Westmoreland officials are evaluating voting systems, and officials said a decision will be reached over the next month. County officials demonstrated five different systems last summer and are now negotiating with two companies for the best price, said Commissioner Gina Cerilli.
Commissioners said they expect the new machines, which will replace the touch-screen computers used since 2005, to be used in November’s general election.
The county last year received a state grant worth more than $400,000 to help pay for the voting machines.
Because the governor’s new round of proposed grants would not be authorized, if at all, until after the 2019-20 state budget is approved this summer, county officials said they decided to move forward without any assurances that more funding will be available but could still seek out funds to help cover the cost of the new system.
“More financial help from the state is always welcome,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.
The borrowing finalized on Thursday will provide nearly $27 million for the voting system as well as upgrades to county parks, refurbishments at Westmoreland Manor, the county-owned nursing home, improved radio communications for first responders and courthouse energy and security projects.
Another $17 million will be used to refinance existing debt, a move commissioners said will save the county $1.2 million annually through lower loan repayments.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.