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Council not sold on changing election dates

February 10, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The Hagerstown City Council isn't quite ready to let the voters decide whether to change the dates when municipal elections are held.

The council said Tuesday it wanted proof to support claims made by the Washington County Board of Elections that the city would have to pay thousands of dollars if the council refused to change the dates of municipal elections. Only then, the council said, would it agree to place the issue on the ballot during the May 19 general election.

Last week, the council did everything but authorize placing the issue on the ballot to let the voters decide whether to change the dates of municipal elections from March and May to coincide with the presidential ones.

Washington County Board of Elections Director Dorothy Kaetzel said last year that county officials didn't have the time in March and May to manage municipal elections. As a result, Kaetzel said, the city would have to conduct its own elections at a cost of roughly $60,000.

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Paul Muldowney, a member of the City Elections Board, painted a bleaker picture.

He said during a council work session last month that the cost to the taxpayers would be more like $125,000 because the city would have to hire and train election workers. The taxpayers would pay next to nothing, Muldowney said, if the city held its elections to coincide with the presidential ones because the state would pick up the cost.

Among other things, he called the council shortsighted and self-serving, saying elections that are held in off years have low voter turnout that benefits incumbents.

On Tuesday, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he needed more proof.

He said he wanted the Washington County Board of Elections to put the cost estimates in writing. If that happens, the council would consider placing the issue on the ballot, he said.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh agreed.

"I think we need some more answers from the (Washington County Board of Elections)," she said.

If the council agrees to put the issue on the ballot and the voters decide to change the elections, the next municipal election after the one this spring would be held in 2012.

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