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County officials issue refunds to local government from election authority funds

St. Charles County officials have refunded what an audit said was more than $800,000 in overcharges in election costs to local government jurisdictions and county government between 2008 and 2013 by the county auditor.

In late December, the county refunded $221,367 to local government jurisdictions and shifted more than $500,000 from an account in the county elections office to another county account.

Meanwhile, County Elections Director Rich Chrismer said he may take legal action to reverse some of the county administration’s actions.

Chrismer said Jan. 8 that County Finance Director Bob Schnur overstepped his authority and may have violated state statutes in taking funds from what Chrismer said is a county election services account.

Transfers from that account used for election expenses have to be approved by the elected county election authority director, Chrismer said. He added that he also cannot spend money from that account without the approval of the county executive and county council.

The refunds are the latest actions in an ongoing dispute between Chrismer, Schnur and other county officials that boiled over last summer on the heels of the state audit.

Schnur, who said he has been looking into the issue since 2010, said last week that checks to 32 county political subdivisions were mailed in late December and Chrismer was notified of the mailing the next day. The county also shifted the $517,000 to a county account, he said.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Schnur said, adding that, while there was no fraud involved, Chrismer’s office was following procedures for setting up a reserve account that were mistaken.

For his part, Chrismer questioned the county administration’s motivation saying county officials want to turn more election expenses over to local governments.

“They want to gouge local government jurisdictions, and I won’t let them do that,” Chrismer said.

The refund checks cover election expenses to local jurisdictions between 2008 and 2013. The Francis Howell School District received the largest amount at $34,128, followed by the city of St. Peters at $31,349. A sum of $27,397 went to the St. Charles County Ambulance District, and $26,179 to the Wentzville School District. Chrismer said nine jurisdictions received refunds of less than $50.

No countywide elections are planned this year. If the $500,000 budgeted this year is not spent, it could be added to the county’s general fund next year, Chrismer said.

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