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City voters to decide on election date

February 17, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The City of Hagerstown has held its primary and general elections in March and May for the past several decades, but that could change in a few months.

On Tuesday, the City Council unofficially agreed to place an issue on the ballot during the general election on May 19 that would let voters decide whether they want to change the dates of municipal elections to coincide with the presidential ones. The council is to vote on the proposal during a meeting on Feb. 24.

If the council officially agrees to place the issue on the ballot and the voters change the election dates, the next municipal elections after the ones this year would be held in 2012 instead of 2013. The change would mean that the next mayor and council would serve about 3 1/2 years instead of four.

Four of the council's five members - Martin E. Brubaker, Lewis C. Metzner, Penny M. Nigh and Alesia D. Parson-McBean - said Tuesday they would vote in favor of placing the issue on the ballot. Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer was absent.

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The council was reluctant in its decision.

Nigh said she believed the council was strong-armed into making the decision after Hagerstown and Washington County election officials released fuzzy details that stated city taxpayers would pay thousands of dollars if the council didn't change the dates on which municipal elections are held.

Last year, Washington County Board of Elections Director Dorothy Kaetzel said her staff was too busy to manage municipal elections in March and May. As a result, Kaetzel said, the city would have to hold its own elections if the council didn't change the dates to coincide with the gubernatorial or presidential elections.

Kaetzel said it would cost the city about $60,000 to hold its own elections, in part to hire and train election workers. The cost would be next to nothing, she said, if the city piggybacked on the gubernatorial or presidential elections because the state would pay a majority of the cost.

An e-mail Kaetzel sent to City Clerk Donna Spickler on Friday said the city's cost to piggyback would be about $3,000.

Last month, Paul Muldowney, a member of the City Elections Board, told the council that the cost for the city to hold its own elections would be more like $125,000. He accused the council of being self-serving, saying its members didn't want to change the elections because incumbents typically benefit from elections that are held in March and May, when voter turnout is low.

Nigh said Tuesday that she didn't understand how Muldowney came up with the $125,000 estimate and suggested that the city confirm his calculations.

"($125,000) is not actual," Nigh said.

Furthermore, a "political force" exists that is trying to take over the city's elections, she said.

That "political force," Nigh said, consists of Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and the people who supported Charter Home Rule, which failed by a two-thirds margin during an election in February 2008.

Charter Home Rule would have changed Washington County's governing body from County Commissioners to a county council, which would have had more power over local issues and the ability to pass legislation.

Bruchey suggested after the council adjourned that Nigh's comments were misguided.

"I can unequivocally deny that the people who supported Charter Home Rule are trying to take over this election," Bruchey said.

The mayor said he supports changing municipal elections to coincide with presidential elections because the city would save at least $60,000 and because voter turnout would increase.

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