In an effort to save taxpayers a chunk of cash – roughly $300,000 – the Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to run their own citywide election this November, independent of the county.
After hiring a consulting firm, the council is confident the city can halve the cost of holding an election by running it without the county’s help. The issue – which is not a problem for most cities – arose because Santa Barbara is the only remaining jurisdiction in the county that still holds its elections on odd-numbered years. Now, the cost of an election – which was once shared with other jurisdictions – is tremendous.
Council members estimate that running their own citywide elections will cost them only $300,000, instead of the roughly half a million dollars the county proposed. The county’s proposal, city administrative services director Marcelo Lopez said, has no basis.
“These costs are extremely high,” Lopez said. “The County of Santa Barbara would charge us $550,000 to $650,000. The city of Ventura is going to be charged $90,000 for a comparable election. It’s not fair to the taxpayers if we can do it at a lower cost.”
Although it is a large bureaucratic affair, Lopez said he is confident the city will be able to conduct the election for half the price of the county’s estimate.
“We estimate that if the city conducts an election, it will cost us about $300,000. I don’t think anyone has challenged the county to see where the extra $300,000 is coming from,” Lopez said. “Why should the taxpayers get soaked with this?”
County Clerk Joe Holland placed the blame squarely on the city. The city has continued to hold their elections on odd years, Holland said, but if it would shift its election cycle to even-numbered years, their expenditure would only be $30,000 – a tenth of the price of even running elections itself.
“They city of Santa Barbara had the choice,” Holland said. “We always asked them if they wanted to move. The way election costs work is you share the costs with other cities and jurisdictions that have elections on the same day. All the other districts moved to even numbered years and they’re left holding the bag.”
Acutely aware of this discrepancy, the city has also approved an ordinance scheduled to appear on the ballot this November that, if passed, will sync the city’s election cycle with that of the rest of the county. To accommodate for the shift, officials elected for this term would remain in office an extra year.
But until the city makes the switch, it may have to continue running their own elections. And while the city continues to boast that it can run its own election on the cheap, Holland suggested that the polling systems might not be up to the standard that the county is required to uphold.
“They’re going to be providing a different level of service,” Holland said. “They said they can run the election for $300,000 – half of what we offered – but they’re going to have 20 polling places and 20 precincts. We would have 33 polling places and 62 precincts.”