Switch to even year elections saves money, turnout larger

Last updated: December 10. 2013 6:12PM - 1188 Views
Anthony Gonzalez Staff Reporter

The Elkin Board of Commissioners, from left, Bob Norton, Cicely McCulloch, J.L. Lowe, Lestine Hutchens, Skip Whitman, and Terry Kennedy, pose prior to Monday's meeting at Town Hall.
The Elkin Board of Commissioners, from left, Bob Norton, Cicely McCulloch, J.L. Lowe, Lestine Hutchens, Skip Whitman, and Terry Kennedy, pose prior to Monday's meeting at Town Hall.
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After being slapped with a $5,000 invoice for the cost of the most recent municipal election, the Elkin Board of Commissioners opted to take steps to switch its municipal elections to an even year.

The shift to an even numbered election year would divert the costs of municipal elections back to the county instead of being absorbed by Elkin taxpayers.

Under a unanimous request by commissioners, a formal resolution will be presented at Elkin’s January town meeting. If approved, the resolution will be sent to Rep. Sarah Stevens for action by the N.C. General Assembly.

The Surry County Board of Elections imposed the whopping fee to Elkin for holding its municipal election during an odd year, or at a time when elections are considered idle for any county, state, or federal position.

In a prior report, the Surry County Board of Elections official indicated that Elkin was expected to pay about $3,600 for its Nov. 5 election. However, the actual invoice surged to $5,092.

The reason for the elevated cost is due to the fact that the shared costs on the invoice were only split between Mount Airy and Elkin this year. Prior years were split between four municipalities — Elkin, Dobson, Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain.

“The costs (in future years) can go up even higher,” said Angie Harrison with the Surry County Board of Elections. “Though our staffing remains in tact, the cost of printing materials is something that can rise. Other costs get in the way too.”

The fee increase sparked action by Elkin officials who indicated that its time for action.

“I don’t believe its fair to see people who were just elected to see their term reduce a year. It’s particularly not fair to Bob Norton who is Elkin’s newest commissioner,” said Mayor Lestine Hutchens. “I just want to get this done. I think you all know how I feel about this.”

“I agree. This is the right thing to do,” said Commissioner Terry Kennedy.

The shift to even years is considered a victory for Hutchens who in prior years advocated for the switch, but to no avail. In addition to cost savings, one of the mayor’s public positions on the switch relates to voter turnout.

Hutchens previously indicated frustration on a dismal amount of voters arriving at the polls during municipal election. She said that a switch to even election numbered years would bring more people to the decision-making process.

During the Nov. 5 election, Elkin had six candidates on the ballot with voters electing the top three onto its town commission compared to three candidates for two seats in 2011.

Turnout was dismal in both elections.

Elkin had 2,539 registered voters for the 2013 election. Just 19.89 percent voted on Nov. 5 compared to only 18 percent who showed up in 2011, the most recent municipal election year available for comparison.

According to election data, only 502 ballots were cast from voters within the two main election precincts for Elkin.

Even numbered years, on average, double turnout and have tripled turnout during presidential years. In Elkin, the turnout was 67 percent for 2012 (presidential year) and at 36 percent for 2010.

In June of 2012, Pilot Mountain and Dobson board officials voted on changes to its election. Both towns switched to even numbered years because they didn’t want to pay the extra staffing costs associated with operating election precincts in off years. Doing so passed the election costs back to the county.

The Dobson and Pilot Mountain switch to even voting years saved taxpayers some money, according to records by the Surry County Board of Elections. For Dobson, that amount came to $2,626.97 in 2011, and in Pilot Mountain, the cost was $2,584.07.

The shift in year resulted in Pilot Mountain’s filling of its two seats a year earlier; the municipal election was held in 2012 instead of 2013. Dobson chose to extend its seats that would have been voted on this year, so they’ll see an election in 2014.

Other town news:

• Bob Norton was sworn in as Elkin’s newest commissioner. “Let’s just say I will be myself. I look forward to working with the town and staff. I’m sure they’ll be bridges, but we’ll cross those when we get there,” said Norton. Elkin’s newest commissioner was sworn in by Judge Charles Neades. Also sworn into an additional term were Cicely McCulloch and Terry Kennedy.

• Commissioner J.L. Lowe Jr. was elected as mayor pro tempore.

• 269 PGW Drive was annexed into the town of Elkin at the request of property owners.

• Commissioners approved a request by Myra Cook of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce to use town municipal park on May 16 and 17 for the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival. A variance was needed allowing alcohol consumption for May 17.

• Hutchens passed along a request for a donation to the Ellis Hankins scholarship fund being coordinated by the UNC School of Government. Commissioners did not take any action on the matter.

• Dr. Bill Blackley with Elkin Valley Trails Association provided an update on trail progress. He said the footbridge arriving in February is to be installed in the spring. EVTA is still raising some money for approaches, bents and pilings. There is 0.3 mile completed on the Elkin side of bridge except for adding granite dust after construction. Both culvert sections and about 0.5 miles of trail near completion on the north side of Elkin Creek to be opened in the spring 2014.

• A committee is developing a bike, hike, run, jog, stroller loop around Elkin. Several Eagle Scout projects are developing along the trail. EVTA officials are engaged in a watershed of the Elkin Creek and tributaries up to Roaring Gap. They’re also engaged in developing a master plan for the Mountain to Sea Trail from Stone Mountain State Park to Elkin/Jonesville to Pilot Mountain State Park.

A new osprey nest will be installed at Crater Park. Trout stocking in Elkin Creek begins in March. “A January 9 public trails meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the Elkin Center on North Bridge Street on how to get engaged and help speed development of the trail to Stone Mountain,” said Blackley.

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