ALPENA - Recently passed legislation in Lansing gives smaller municipalities the options of hosting local election in even numbered years, which will allow them to piggy back state and federal ballot issues. For those that choose to change current election cycles that fall on odd numbered years, such as the City if Alpena, it could mean significant savings in election costs.
Alpena Clerk/Treasurer Karen Hebert said because the city hosts elections during the odd years, it takes on much of the cost obligations. She said elections cost the city in the neighborhood of $10,000 and a move to even number years would save money.
"There have been a number of new election laws that have been passed this year and with this one there are two things we would benefit from," Hebert said. "We would save a lot of money in labor costs. The Department of Public Works and my whole office is involved and it takes hours and hours of preparation. Then we have to pay the precinct workers, pay for the ballots, which are 45 cents each and all of the other supplies and testing of the equipment, when it is all added up it is about $10,000. Switching would help us save money."
Currently the city charter calls for four-year terms for the council members. In order to switch to the new election cycle it would take some maneuvering and possibly an addition or subtraction of a year to some on the council. Hebert said there would be some logistics that would have to be worked through, but nothing that couldn't be done. She said the city is going to be requesting more information from the state as to how to proceed with the council members current terms.
"First the council would need to pass a resolution then we would need to have a public hearing so people can comment on it and then it would get into the state, so that's fairly simple," Hebert said. "The logistics as far as the terms is what we want to check on. There were sort of silent on that, so we need to find out what we need to do to maneuver a four-year term into the even numbered years."
Hebert said even if the council passed the resolution and decided to make the change soon, it would have no impact on elections this year. She said there will be a year lag between the time the council passes a resolution and when the first even number year election would take place. She said that is why some terms could be affected.
"The two seats up this year won't be affected, but the next one, which is Mayor Matt Waligora, Susan Nielsen and Mike Nowak, their terms are up in 2015 and if we went to even number years, we don't know if we will have to have their terms three or five years," Hebert said. "We need clarification from the state."
Hebert said there also could be some pitfalls if the change is made. She said educating the public on the changes is one and keeping the election workers trained are only a few.
"We would have to make sure people knew there are local proposals and candidates on the ballot. They're not used to seeing that on a presidential ballot or a state ballot," Hebert said. "We would also have to make sure our precinct workers are kept up to date. It is hard when you have a lot of time between elections to remember the entire process, so there would be a little bit more training we would have to do."
Whether Alpena decides to make the switch or not, Hebert said she believes a lot of other municipalities will because of the savings. She said consolidating election finance and logistics may turn into the new norm.
"The trend is definitely to consolidate. We're all looking for ways to save money and to do things more efficiently and this is one way," Hebert said. "There is a trend already with communities doing that and I think this will be another trend municipalities can utilize to save money."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.