Last week, the City of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County settled a lawsuit and declared that the city will pay the county $50,000 for its upcoming elections instead of the original $240,000.
Initially, the city had filed a lawsuit alleging that the county had wrongly billed Santa Barbara for its November 2005 election. At the time of the election, the county billed the city for $240,000. As a result of the settlement, the county will now bear most of the 2007 election costs.
The county’s election bills to the city have increased for the past 15 years, with some officials now estimating that future elections could cost $600,000.
While the county received just over a fifth of what it had originally asked for, County Clerk, Recorder and Assessor Joe Holland said that the decision will ease further financial dealings between the two parties. As a result of the settlement, he said, the city now understands the billing process.
“The county was mostly concerned that the city recognized that the billing methodology was correct,” Holland said. “There was money involved in the settlement, [but] the main issue was the billing methodology and for future elections the county will bill the City of Santa Barbara in a consistent methodology.”
As a stipulation of the official settlement, the city will agree to pay for all future elections conducted by the county in accordance with the county’s billing methods as previously set in 2006.
Rather than rely on the county’s election practices, City Attorney Steve Wiley said the City of Santa Barbara might seize the opportunity to host its elections without county involvement.
“It was a good, practical settlement for the city, and we think in the future we can hold elections for less than the county was charging us,” Wiley said.
One explanation of the program’s high costs is that Santa Barbara City holds its elections on odd years. While most districts hold even-year elections and thus split the county cost, Santa Barbara City has kept its traditional off-year program and received the entire cost of the event.
According to city officials, Measure A, which will appear on the ballot this November, would shift the city election to an even-year schedule and save an estimated $1.5 million.
If passed in 2007, Measure A would push the following election back to 2010 to sync with the even-year schedule.
According to yesonmeasurea.com, supporters believe voter outcome will increase if city elections are in sync with county elections.
However, according to the Web site, those opposed to Measure A believe the measure is a way to keep current city council members in office for an additional year. The opposition also believes city elections would lose media coverage because they would have to share it with county elections.