The last time I columnized on the idea of Johnson City moving its city elections from April to November, one of my favorite local curmudgeons contacted me and asked me why I continued to “beat that dead horse.”
“Because I believe it’s a good idea,” I told him.
After he spewed a litany of the same tired arguments for not moving the election, my friend ended the conversation by simply saying: “Get off of it.”
Perhaps suffering from a bit of a post-Republican Primary hangover last week, I don’t have much political punditry to impart today. So, I’ve decided to again whomp on some dead horse flesh.
And it’s for a good cause, at least I think pushing an idea that could save Johnson City taxpayers as much as $70,000 to hold a municipal election is a good cause. I would think it’s also something city officials would want to give particular attention to in these tough fiscal times. If you will recall, Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin warned recently that restrictions the state is now placing on the city’s ability to grow could result in a property tax hike in the near future.
It seems city officials would want to explore something as reasonable as moving the city’s election from the spring
— when city taxpayers have to pay the full cost to hold the contest — to the fall when those costs would be supplemented by state and federal elections. Going it alone has simply become too expensive for city officials to justify, although a few still try. Opponents of moving the city election to November say the current date allows voters to concentrate solely on local issues, and not be distracted by issues dominating state and federal races.
Even so, moving Johnson City’s municipal elections would give new city commissioners more time to get acclimated before settling down to work on a new budget. Newcomers are now thrust directly into the fiscal fray.
It’s become painfully obvious that city taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth by holding the municipal election in the spring. The last city election cost taxpayers $77,867, which is $2,800 more than was budgeted. The largest single expense was for election officials, which at $58,918.50, was more than the average cost of the past four elections.
And while the cost to hold the municipal election was up, the turnout was down. The 2013 election drew 11.4 percent of the city’s 38,237 registered voters.
There will be a town election in Jonesborough in November. About a decade ago, officials there switched from a spring election date to one in the fall. Mayor Kelly Wolfe says that decision was a wise move. The town of Jonesborough is now saving as much as $20,000 by holding its municipal elections in November.
“It has probably helped our turnout a bit,” Wolfe said. “I believe the more things that are on the ballot, the more interest we get from the voters.”
That may be why the old guard and the powers that be in Johnson City are so stubbornly opposed to moving the date of the city election. They are content with a small pool of voters deciding the direction of our local government.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncity? press.com? . Like him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ ? JCPressRobertHouk. Follow him at Twitter.com/houkRobert? .