City council may move municipal elections from October for budget purposes
Valdez may be joining Anchorage and a handful of other Alaska municipalities in holding its municipal elections in April instead of October.
The exploration process comes at the behest of council member Chris Moulton, who requested that the city clerk, Sheri Pierce, gather information on how to change the election date. The move comes with the consent of other council members who say moving the municipal elections to April will allow newly elected council members more time to familiarize themselves with the inner-workings of the city before delving head-first into the long and complex budgeting process.
"They've just asked what the procedure would be if they wanted to do that," Pierce said in an interview before Monday night's regular council meeting.
The current October elections place newly elected members in a council seat in the third week of October and gives the newly elected members only a few weeks time in office before they are tasked with attending several week's worth of special meetings to deciding how to divvy up the over $50 million in proposed spending.
"It really is a steep learning curve," Pierce said. "It is very difficult for them to go straight into budget as a newly elected council member."
School board member Alan Sorum agreed. Sorum was an elected member of the Valdez City Council before he ran for school board instead in last October's election.
"Sooner rather than later," Sorum said of the proposed change. "It's a good thing."
While the procedure for changing the municipal election schedule is fairly simple – the council will only have to pass a new ordinance changing the election to April from October – Pierce said there is some worry that the proposed switch could put newly elected board of education members in the same position of not having a chance to get their feet wet before working on the school district's budget, which is typically passed by the board in April.
"It affects the school board separate, in a completely opposite way," Pierce noted.
This fact did not sway Sorum, who spoke on his own opinion and not on behalf of the board of education.
"The school board, I think, is behind the curve anyway," he said.
The board of education often tasked with passing a balanced budget with the onus of not knowing how much money it will receive from the Alaska legislature's budget, which creates havoc when the board is forced to amend its budget up or down later, depending on the final funding it receives from the state.
Attempts to reach the six other school board members and district superintendent Dr. Lisa Stroh were unsuccessful.
While no council members present at Monday's meeting spoke against the proposed change – council member Mike Wells joked the hardest part would be "...trying to find campaign signs in the snow..." – they did note that school board members had yet to weigh in on the change and the proposal had not yet been well publicized.
If the council does opt to change the month for municipal elections, the city charter states that a full year must pass between the council's vote to change the date and the first election the change goes into effect.
"The Charter requires that any ordinance changing the date of the election be adopted at least one year prior to the date of the first regularly scheduled election," Pierce said in her report to council. " Therefore, the first election which could be held on a date other than
the first Tuesday in October would be in 2015. For the Mayor, City Council and School Board Members who are currently serving in office and for those members who will be elected in October of 2014, changing the date of the election to April would reduce the terms of these elected officials by six months. Those officials elected to office in April of 2015 would serve full terms going forward."
Pierce told the council there would be no costs associated with the proposed change.
"There would be no fiscal cost to implement this," Pierce said "There would be no cost to make this change."
Council members and city administration said they hoped to move forward by hearing from the board of education and the public before moving forward, but hoped take action either way before April 2014.