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Money spent to put tax issues on ballot the ‘cost of doing business’

Asking voters to approve more money for cities, townships and school districts on May 7 will cost thousands of dollars — an expense that government officials say is “the cost of doing business.”

The May 7 ballot is a special election in an odd-numbered year. That means the cost of having an issue on the ballot is greater because boards of elections can charge for more than just ballots and advertising, state law says.

Several issues factor into the costs associated with the May ballot including the number of precincts in each jurisdiction, polling location rental fees, equipment delivery, ballots, poll workers, and legal advertising in newspapers and on a county’s website to meet state requirements, boards of elections officials said.

A Dayton Daily News analysis revealed that the estimated cost to place an issue on the May 7 ballot ranges from as low as $1,200 (Waynesville’s two renewals) to approximately $49,200 (Centerville school levy), according to figures provided by Clark, Greene, Montgomery and Warren counties.

Miami County did not provide approximate numbers.

Butler County does not have any issues on the May ballot, but generally for a special election, it costs between $1,400 and $1,600 per precinct to put a measure on the ballot, said Jocelyn Bucaro, deputy director of the Butler County Board of Elections.

“It is the cost of doing business,” said Kent Scarrett, spokesman for the Ohio Municipal League. “And the cost is going up, as local governments have to go to the ballot more often to make up for revenue deficits. Of course going to the voters is getting more difficult because they say the well is running dry.”

As more issues are added to a county’s ballot, costs drop, county officials said. The more issues there are, the more groups can bear the cost of the election.

Boards of elections officials said there is no profit generated by the fees charged to place issues on the ballot, and the money collected by the county auditors goes right back into the respective county’s general fund account.

“Creating this election creates this cost,” said Kim Antrican, deputy director of the Warren County Board of Elections. “Some coming in for a renewal may not have an option. They need to renew it. Some just can’t wait. They want two chances, so if it fails now, they want another chance to do it again.”

There are 13 issues in Montgomery County, including four jurisdictions that each have two measures on the ballot — Harrison, Miami and Washington townships, and Brookville schools. To add a second measure, the only extra expense is advertising, said Betty Smith, the director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

In Montgomery County, it costs between $1,000 and $1,200 per precinct.

“Many jurisdictions are aware of that, but they will still call us and ask that question,” Smith said. “There are various reasons why they are on the ballot. Some jurisdictions were on there before and did not pass, so they’re attempting again. Some of the issues are appearing on the ballot for the first time.”

With 40 precincts in its jurisdiction, it will cost Washington Twp. approximately $40,000 to $48,000 for its two issues — a 0.7-mill parks renewal and a 4.65-mill fire replacement and increase levy.

Township administrator Jesse Lightle said the election costs will come out of the township’s general fund. It’s a cost that’s budgeted annually and it varies year-to-year, depending on which levies are set to expire, she said.

“Certainly in townships, since we’re reliant on property tax as our major source of revenue, we’re used to going to the voters with every expiration of our various levies,” Lightle said. “We look at it as a report card — an opportunity for the voters to confirm how they feel about the service delivery and the money that’s being allocated to it.”

The cost per precinct in Greene County is roughly $700 to $750, said Nancy Johannes, the county’s board of elections director.

In Greene County, there are only two measures on the ballot — Beavercreek’s income tax proposal and Fairborn school district’s additional tax levy.

This is the fourth time in the last two years that Fairborn schools will appear on the ballot. It has cost the district $21,440.47 up to this point, not including the final expenses from Montgomery and Clark counties for last November’s election.

Fairborn’s election expenses for operational levies are paid out of an election budget account within the general fund, district treasurer Eric Beavers said.

“It’s necessary because this is the process we have to seek additional revenue,” Beavers said. “There’s an expense that’s involved in that. They’re just collecting for the fees that are involved for you to achieve seeking new additional revenue. At this structure, it’s a business transaction. It’s the cost of doing business.”

Matthew Tlachac, the director of the Clark County Board of Elections, said it costs approximately $420 to staff a precinct, which doesn’t include rental charges, mileage and ballots.

Four Clark County school districts have issues on the ballot, and they are “helping each other out a little bit” by sharing costs, such as the delivery of the polling machines, Tlachac said.

“We want to try to be looked upon as an asset in the community every way we can,” Tlachac said. “We’re fairly cognizant of how much cost is involved in an election versus 10 years ago when we had punch cards. It’s a different scene altogether. The cost has risen quite a bit.”

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