Nueces County leaders voted Wednesday to pay back cities and school districts within the county roughly half a million dollars that they were overbilled in recent elections.
When those cities or school districts call for a vote on a bond or to elect new leaders, the election is actually run by Nueces County.
Each of those entities pays the county based on the equipment and manpower needed.
The fees are substantial, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars at times, but county leaders learned today that some of those fees were unnecessary or even illegal.
County Clerk Kara Sands, who serves at the county's Elections Administrator, says she first learned of the overbilling just before the City of Corpus Christi's election on Destination Bayfront in 2013.
A year later, it became a central issue in her own campaign.
"This is why I ran. This was my reason for running for election," she said, "I knew that they were being overcharged, and I wanted to fix it and stop it."
With the help of the Nueces County Auditor Dale Atchley, Sands and her staff looked into the charges over the last three years and found $497,000 was overbilled to the cities and school districts.
According to Sands, the county's hourly rate billed for election workers was much higher than the workers were paid, and she believes that's against the law.
"It was flat out fraud," said Sands.
Sands points the finger at the previous county clerk, Diana Barrera.
However, Barrera told KRIS 6 News that she simply charged based on the advice of the county's previous auditor, Peggy Hayes.
Barrera denies that any overbilling was done intentionally.
Entities like the City of Corpus Christi never questioned the fees they paid for elections.
City Secretary Rebecca Huerta told KRIS 6 News they thought the fees were appropriate, and had no idea they were being overbilled until Sands contacted them recently, and said they were owed about $150,000.
County Judge Loyd Neal affirmed at Wednesday's meeting that the system is fixed and the new fee structure is correct.
County Commissioner Brent Chesney feels the reimbursements are appropriate, saying, "This is transparent government, and this is doing the right thing, and it's costing us, but it's doing the right thing."
The commissioners court voted to go ahead and pay back any small city or school district owed less than $15,000.
Any entity owed more than that will most likely be repaid through discounts on future elections over the next few years.
At the end of the discussion, Sands notified the commissioners court that she has also turned over her audit to the District Attorney's office for possible prosecution, due to her allegation of fraud.
ENTITIES OVERBILLED LESS THAN $15,000:
- Banquete ISD - $3,317
- City of Bishop - $8,607.76
- City of Driscoll - $3,768.46
- Driscoll ISD - $11,305.39
- London ISD - $4,179.73
- NC Drainage District - $9,317.72
- Robstown ISD - $8,241.26
- STWA - $7,167.48
- Tuloso Midway ISD - $5,662.95
-West Oso ISD - $4,120.63
ENTITIES OVERBILLED MORE THAN $15,000:
- City of Corpus Christi - $147,233.04
- Corpus Christi ISD - $60,377.98
- Del Mar College - $74,858.08
- Flour Bluff ISD - $27,448.16
- Democratic Party - $60,771.67
- Republican Party - $60,826.66
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