March 15 Update: The Palm Coast City Council at its meeting Tuesday morning unanimously approved a series of changes discussed below. Read the details here.
The Palm Coast City Council this Tuesday will consider and likely approve a series of changes on when, how and where Palm Coast residents vote for their city council members. None of the changes would affect whom to vote for.
Those changes would significantly reduce the number of polling places (by two thirds) but also make them, despite the fewer number, possibly more convenient. One early voting location would be set, but possibly not for two weeks, and possibly in Bunnell rather than in Palm Coast. And a charter amendment will appear on this November’s ballot, asking voters if they’d want to move Palm Coast elections to even years, as opposed to odd years, as is the case now. That move would save the city upwards of $100,000 per election. That change would also lengthen the term of sitting council members (and only sitting council members, not subsequently elected members) by a year, to five.
The council discussed all three issues last week. It is scheduled to take action on those issues at Tuesday’s council meeting (March 15).
On polling places: The city’s previous election, in 2009, had 21 voting precincts, or polling places. To save money, the council wants to reduce that number to six. “For a community our size the number of polling places is very, very high,” City Manager Jim Landon said. “Having a lot of polling places with nobody coming very often didn’t make a lot of sense although you’re paying for them.” It also means that voters must go to their precinct to vote. They cannot, for example—if they work in a different part of the city, or happen to be somewhere near a different voting booth at a different part of the day, drop in their and cast their ballot.
If the council changes the number of precincts to six polling places, any eligible Palm Coast voter will be able to vote at any of the six locations. When the council discussed the matter at its workshop last Tuesday, the administration didn’t have dollar figures to show how much money would be saved by reducing the number of locations to six.
“The comments I’ve been getting is, why are we doing this, why are we dropping from 21 to 6,” council member Frank Meeker said, “it was so much more convenient and all that, and my response is, two, three years in a row of double-digit property values going down the tubes, trying to cut back to save money where we can.”
“I thought that was the mandate that we all heard from our residents—cutting back spending,” Mayor Jon Netts said.
Early voting: The city had all but decided to hold early voting only at the Supervisor of Elections’ office in Bunnell. But that drew criticism. “I am getting tremendous negative feedback on why we’re having to go to Bunnell and this is a Palm Coast election,” council member Holsey Moorman, who’s up for reelection, said. “That’s going to impact the turnout.”
But the council appeared willing to change the location—either to the Flagler County Public Library (though that would require extra paperwork in the form of a formal agreement between the city and the county, the library being county property) or at the community center on Palm, Coast Parkway.
Another wrinkle: if early voting is held at the Supervisor of Elections office, it must be held for two weeks—no more, no less. If the city runs early voting out of one of its own locations, it can cut that down to one week, and save that extra week’s money. Again, the administration didn’t have hard numbers on what price difference there would be between early voting in Bunnell versus at a location in Palm Coast. It’ll have those numbers Tuesday.
Switching to even-year elections: The council wants to switch its election cycles to even years because by doing so it would save about $110,000, Landon said (reducing its costs to just $10,000). It would also take advantage of the significantly greater turnout of general elections. To make that change, voters must approve, since it would be an amendment to the city charter. That amendment wil appear on this November’s ballot.
Less clear is what to do with council members’ terms affected by the change. Frank Meeker and Bill Lewis have four-year terms. They’re up in 2013. Should voters approve going to even-year elections, the choice is between either truncating the Meeker and Lewis terms to three years, so their seats would be up again in 2012, or extending them by a year, so they would be up in 2014. That could be done by city ordinance rather than by referendum. The same issue applies to those elected this November: they can either have three-year terms so they’d be up again in 2014 or have their term extended a year so they’ll be up in 2016.
The five-year terms for both sets are the more likely option, especially if the council is to avoid having all five members’ terms up in the same year.
In a final election-related matter, the council also discussed an appointment to the canvassing board this fall. The council can either appoint one of its own—as long as the person is not running. That means either Bill Lewis or Meeker. Or it can take a nomination from the public at large. “If nobody else will do the stupid thing I’ll do it, but I just as well have public input,” Meeker said. Nominations will be presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
Three seats are up this November: that of Mayor Jon Netts, and those of council members Moorman and Mary DiStefano. Moorman is running again. DiStefano is not (she’s term-limited). Netts hasn’t made it official, but he is almost certain to run again.