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Election change: Money meets excuses

February 15, 2009|By TIM SPELL

$125,000.

That is what some say will be the approximate cost to the City of Hagerstown in 2013 if it holds its primary election in March and its general election in May.

This issue came up at a recent Hagerstown City Council meeting and opinions were sharply divided.

On one side were Hagerstown City Council members, who wanted to keep the election schedule as is.

On the other side were members of the City Elections Board, who said the city should change its municipal elections to coincide with the presidential elections in an effort to save money.

At the Feb. 3 council meeting, it appeared as though council members were willing to put their opinions aside and let the electorate decide the issue. At least that was a step in the right direction.

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But at last Tuesday's meeting, the council decided to shift back into neutral by demanding proof that keeping the elections in March and May would cost the city $125,000.

The bottom line of the argument is that Dorothy Kaetzel, director of the Washington County Board of Elections, said county officials are too busy to administer municipal elections in March and May. She said moving the elections to coincide with the presidential elections wouldn't cost the city very much since the state foots the majority of the bill.

Paul Muldowney, a member of the City Elections Board, said last month the cost to taxpayers would be about $125,000 if the elections stay as is. Not only would it cost money for the city to run its own elections, but the city would have to hire and train election workers.

Sounds simple enough to me. But it gets complicated.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner gave a couple of reasons why the elections should stay where they are on the calendar.

One reason he stated on a video shot by Herald-Mail city reporter Dan Dearth was "this is the way city elections in this community and the majority of cities in the State of Maryland have been forever."

I'm all for tradition when it comes to certain things, but as far as an election that will cost the city six figures, that's not a good excuse.

The other reason Metzner stated was that two panels that reviewed the city's charter - including one in 2008 - recommended keeping the election schedule the way it is.

It's a good point and I agree the panel's decision shouldn't just be thrown out the window at the drop of a hat.

But when I'm seeing that it's going to cost $125,000 for an election, I've got a problem with that.

We're in a recession right now. Even though the money wouldn't be spent now, the idea of dishing out that much money can't sit too well with city residents who have been laid off from their jobs or are struggling to make ends meet. And now the city is looking at having to spend $125,000 for an election? The price of democracy sure is high.

The next step now is to come up with the proof that the city would have to spend $125,000. There needs to be proof for every dollar that is spent. Let's not give the council any chance for any more explanations for the money and drag this out any longer.

Once the proof is in hand, the council needs to move forward and agree to have the issue placed on the ballot in the general election in May. No more questions asked.

Somehow, I think the council will relent and the issue will go to a vote, but I'm not counting on anything with this current council.

The day might come where the city will need to come up some extra money to handle an issue that is far more critical than when an election will be held. If that isn't enough of a reason to save $125,000 now, I don't know what is.

Tim Shea is a Herald-Mail copy editor. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2329, or by e-mail at tims@herald-mail.com.

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