A frustrated Chris Anderson, Seminole’s supervisor of elections, told county commissioners on Tuesday he can’t understand why Seminole is moving at a slow pace in its plans to build his office a larger headquarters at the Five Points Complex in time for the 2024 presidential election.
“I’ve done my job, and I would say today that it’s time for you to do yours,” Anderson said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “I’m asking you to let’s get this project moving forward.”
But commissioners lashed back at Anderson, saying that they need to continue studying the issue of a larger elections headquarters, including asking more questions about the size and cost of a new building.
“We’re doing our due diligence, and we’re doing our job to make sure that we are appropriating the taxpayers’ money in the most efficiently and wisest way that we can,” Commissioner Lee Constantine said. “I’m objecting to that you are blaming us. That we have some sort of hidden agenda to stop you from building this building, and that is not true.”
Commissioners then voted to develop preliminary plans for the construction of a new Supervisor of Elections building at Five Points Complex. They also directed county staff to continue working with Anderson’s office in developing a plan for the size and cost of the new building that would replace the current cramped headquarters off East Airport Boulevard near the Orlando Sanford International Airport.
“To see the project move forward is a good sign, but I would like to have seen them agree to the size of the building,” Anderson said after the meeting. “It would help us to have the size of the building. But that’s another conversation to be had.”
Anderson also noted that his staff of 17 employees is busy preparing for this year’s primary and general elections — in which voters will cast ballots for city, county, state and gubernatorial races — and is hard pressed to continue planning for a new building.
“We don’t have much time because we have elections coming up,” he said. “So my office has to move on.”
Since 2020, Anderson has warned commissioners that his elections office needs more space to handle the growing number of voters, along with their increasing use of mail-in ballots. He said his office has outgrown the 18,000-square-foot building and is in dire need of a larger building to securely store voting equipment.
A recent space study showed the elections office needs at least 38,000 square feet for offices and warehouse. By 2032, it would need 45,000 square feet of space, and 52,000 square feet by 2042 to meet the estimated growth of new voters.
Elections officials said that by 2030, the county will need to add 17 more voting precincts to accommodate the 70,000 additional registered voters. And each precinct will require storage for voting booths, ballot boxes and other equipment, said Helen Ehrgott Trovato, chief operations officer for the Supervisor of Elections Office.
“We’re bursting at the seams now with our current building,” she said.
Anderson said his office needs at least eight more employees, but he can’t hire them because his current building lacks the office space. The current building needs a new roof and hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance repairs, according to a county report. The elections office pays the airport about $15,643 a month in lease payments.
His hope is to have a new headquarters before the 2024 general election, when voters will cast ballots for president, U.S. Senate, legislative seats, commissioners, city races and constitutional amendments.
This year, county staff and elections staff put together preliminary plans that show a new stand-alone building at about 45,000 square feet and costing an estimated $17 million at the south end of the county’s Five Points Complex off U.S. Highway 17-92 near Seminole State College.
Despite the report, Anderson said commissioners continued asking more questions and delayed moving forward.
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But commissioners said it’s their job to question county expenditures.
“I want to get this done because your team needs space to do their job and our citizens need the people working for them to be equipped with the tools to serve them,” Commissioner Amy Lockhart said. “If there have been delays because we’ve been asking questions, that is our job. We want to work with you.”
In other county action: Lockhart said she would like Seminole to modify or “tinker with” the county’s rules allowing homeowners in residential neighborhoods to keep chickens in their backyards to harvest fresh eggs.
In 2018, Seminole made permanent a pilot program that allows residents to keep up to four hens in a backyard coop as long as they take a training class and obtain a county permit at a cost of $75.
Since then, the county has granted 24 permits. Lockhart — who has a chicken permit — said many residents may not know the county’s requirements or permits. And the county may need to streamline the process and encourage people to apply for a permit.
“It’s a wonderful program and there are many elements that have proven successful,” she said. Commissioners agreed to discuss Seminole’s backyard chicken ordinance at a future meeting.