Alpena contemplating changing election cycle
ALPENA – Odd-year elections could be a thing of the past if Alpena Municipal Council opts out of them.
Council will hold a public hearing at its Dec. 16 meeting to discuss eliminating odd-year elections, a move that could save around $20,000 over four years. Deputy Clerk/Treasurer and Finance Director Julie Krajniak read from a report about a new state law allowing the city to make the change. City elections currently are held on odd years, and this year’s election cost around $10,000, she said. The ballots alone totaled $1,812.
On even years, the city pays around $8,000 for elections, City Manager Greg Sundin said. This wouldn’t change, but if the city opted out, it could save roughly $10,000 for each odd-year election.
While the cost savings are significant, there are potential drawbacks, Krajniak said. Voters would have to figure out longer ballots, and city issues could be buried among state and federal ballot items. Plus, with longer times between elections, employees could need more training.
“If we have one to 1 1/2 years between elections, workers may forget the process and need additional training,” she said.
If the city were to opt out, the city’s regular elections would move to even years beginning in 2016, Krajniak said. This means some elected officials would get an extra year in their term. Special elections could be held on one of four dates during the year, and to make the change the city needs to hold public hearings and pass a resolution.
Councilman Shawn Sexton said he was concerned about local issues getting lost on the ballot, and to the extra year he may serve as a result. He’d rather serve a shorter term, but said Krajniak’s report states this is illegal.
“I feel like I was elected for four years,” he said. “I don’t feel right sneaking in an extra year. It’s not sneaking it in, but I don’t want it to seem that way. I certainly know of some state officials I voted for that I would not want an extra year.”
Saving the city $20,000 is something no official wants to turn down, Councilman Mike Nowak said, but he wondered if elected officials will be able to serve an extra year. Councilwoman Susan Nielsen agreed, adding it could lead to more special elections. Sundin said the longer terms would be only a one-time thing, with future officials being elected to four-year terms.
Mayor Pro Tem Sam Eiler said voters are by and large intent on finishing a ballot and capable of figuring them out. He recalled a past election where local proposals on the back of the ballot passed with wide margins.
Mayor Matt Waligora said after the meeting that he thinks the city should consider the change, and ask the public for input.
“I think it’s in our best interest as a council to, at the very least, accept public comment on that and see what the voters think,” he said. “That’s the easiest way for us to ensure that we haven’t overlooked something that could be affected by changing to an odd year that we may not have thought of, or to at least hear what the voters have to say.”
There are possible drawbacks, Waligora said. At the same time, more people come out to vote for state and federal elections than city elections alone. It would give some elected officials an extra year, but he thinks there are more pressing issues to consider.
In other business:
* Alpena was recognized for the 19th consecutive year for its solid financial reporting. Jack Smith, executive director of Michigan Government Finance Officers Association, presented the city a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
* the city will recognize its local Zonta Club on Nov. 23, its 50th birthday. Waligora proclaimed the day to be Zonta Club of Alpena Day, and seven members of the club were there to receive a copy of the proclamation.
* council members unanimously approved a $10,700 bid from Bedrock Contracting & Excavating to demolish the Beach Motel. Building Official Don Gilmet said the city received eight bids ranging from this to $54,000. He double-checked the bid amount with Bedrock, and said the contractor’s could be so much lower than others because they have equipment to recycle much of the material.
* council members also approved a bid for $14,022.70 for laptops from Chowen & Associates, and narrowly approved a bid from Hall’s Serv-All to provide portable toilets for the city for three years starting in 2014. Hall’s will provide them for $74.80 per unit and $105.84 per handicap unit in the final year. Sexton and Nielsen voted “no” on accepting the bid from Hall’s over Alpena Septic Services.
* the city once again will opt out of the state’s Public Act 152 Health Insurance Premium rules, Sundin said. It’s part of a plan to eventually transition city employees into paying 20 percent of their insurance plan costs over four years.
* the city will renew its lease with Alpena Civic Theatre. Sundin said the city has leased the building at 401 River St. to the theater for some time, and the 10-year renewal has few changes concerning insurance. The city will insure the building and the theater will pay the premium. The theater also must have general liability insurance naming the city as additionally insured.