Changes proposed for the City of Waitsburg elections process
The City Council is scheduled to vote on election proposal at the February 19 council meeting.
February 13, 2020
WAITSBURG—City Administrator Randy Hinchliffe announced plans to hold a vote at the upcoming City Council meeting on February 19, 2020 to move the annual City election process to the Walla Walla County Election Board.
According to the City of Waitsburg Charter, City Council members and the Mayor, all serve one- year terms. One reason given for the proposed change is to have the city’s elected official’s terms correspond with the State of Washington’s model of four-year staggered terms, starting in 2022. Another change with this model would mean that elections would occur every two years in odd years.
RCW 35.30 provides for changes to the City Charter when “necessary or in the best interests of the City as a whole” said Hinchliffe. In a letter to The Times he noted that combining the Clerk and Treasurer positions and allowing the County to collect and remit property tax payments, were past changes to the Charter.
Hinchliffe states that the City run election process is “...expensive and fraught with perceived unfounded biases, annual elections don’t allow City Staff to plan for anything longer than a year or so and can be extremely disruptive should large numbers of council positions change and new people come onto the City Council with limited or no knowledge of City operations.”
Hinchliffe estimates the 2019 election cost the city “$1145, for printing the ballots, envelopes and postage costs, $157 for legal notices, with City of Waitsburg staff time calculated at $476, for a total of $1779. There is an additional cost paid to the County Elections board to maintain the voter registration list, which adds about $3,200 to the overall cost.” These figures total $4,978, though the $3,200 cost to maintain the voter registration list would remain if the county took over the election process.
“The cost for the county to run it would vary slightly depending on what is on the ballot as it becomes a per item cost share with all parties with items on the ballot; but we think it’s going to be around $1,000 +/- every two years” said Hinchliffe.
Karen Martin, Auditor for Walla Walla County agreed that running the City of Waitsburg elections through Walla Walla County’s Election Department could be a cost-saver for Waitsburg. The costs are dependent upon the number of issues on the ballots and the number of races on the ballots. Using a recent county primary election with six issues on the ballot, as an equivalent for estimate, Martin estimated the cost to the city would be $1404. There would also be the City’s share of the indirect costs for the County, such as staff time, machine maintenance, ink toner cartridges, etc. which Martin estimated at $800 per year. This would be an estimated cost of $2,205 which is slightly higher than the estimated cost the city paid for the 2019 election.
The biggest potential savings would come from the change to staggered terms allowing for elections to be held every two years as opposed to annually. This is a change that could be made whether the election process stays with the city or moves to the county.
With this proposed change, the City will hold its election on the first Monday of April (April 6) which will include a longer term of about a year and a half for those elected in order to coincide with the Walla Walla County Election filing dates in 2020.
“Subject to RCW 35.30.080, the staggering of terms of city officers shall be established at the first election, where the simple majority of the persons elected as councilmembers receiving the greatest numbers of votes shall be elected to four-year terms of office and the remainder of the persons elected as councilmembers and the Mayor shall be elected to two-year terms of office. Thereafter, all elected city officers shall be elected for four-year terms and until their successors are elected and qualified and assume office in accordance with RCW 29.04.170.”
“This has been a long time in the making a good step forward for the City. Making this change will help provide stability to the City Council while minimizing disruptions to the City Staff as they try to plan for the long-term viability of the City” said Hinchliffe.
City residents who have questions about this proposed change are invited to contact the City Administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at: (509) 337-6371. Additionally, city residents are encouraged to attend the upcoming City Council meeting which takes place at the Lions Building at the City of Waitsburg Fairgrounds at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 19.