Elections board bills city for primary

Community members head to the polls at the Massey Learning Center in Watertown. SYDNEY SCHAEFER/WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES

WATERTOWN — The city is being billed more than $9,000 for the costs of the June 25 mayoral and council primary that were incurred by the Jefferson County Board of Elections.

Councilman Ryan Henry Wilkinson confirmed that he received a $9,300.07 bill from the board of elections for the non-partisan primary election that left two mayoral candidates in a second-place tie.

In a July 26 letter to City Manager Rick Finn, the elections board wrote the city “is responsible for reimbursing the county,” citing state election laws.

In the past, the city has refused to pay $23,919.12 in expenses for the 2013, 2015 and 2017 primary elections, contending the village and towns are not billed for primary elections, so the city also shouldn’t be charged.

Mr. Finn said Monday that he heard about the bill, saying bills were only sent to City Council members.

“I haven’t seen it yet,” Mr. Finn said. “My office hasn’t received it. We’ll track it down.”

The issue over who should pay for the non-partisan primaries resurfaced after Allison I. Crossman and Councilman Cody J. Horbacz tied for second in the June 25 mayoral primary with 597 votes each. Jeffrey M. Smith had the most votes with 837.

For years, City Attorney Robert J. Slye has adamantly disagreed that the city should be billed for the primaries, pointing out several legal arguments why the city should not pay such bills, Mr. Finn said.

“He’s taken the position that we’re not going to pay,” he said.

Republican election commissioner Jude R. Seymour and Democratic commissioner Babette M. Hall notified the city about the most recent bill.

“It says they have to pay. They just don’t believe they have to,” Mr. Seymour said.

On Nov. 30, 2017, Mr. Slye sent a letter to County Attorney David J. Paulsen outlining his position that a 2005 state election law changed all of that and other municipalities no longer pay.

County officials point to a 1993 law that stipulates the county election board provides ballots, tally sheets and other expenses for primaries and the city pays their costs. At the time of that law, towns and villages also had to reimburse the county.

Mr. Paulsen contends that city primaries cost a lot more than a village trustee or town highway primary, so the city “should absolutely be required to pay for the expenses for city elections that the Board of Elections incur.”

But the argument between the city and county dates back to 2014 when the county wanted to be reimbursed for the previous year’s primary.

The mayoral race remains at a standstill. After the two candidates tied for second, Mr. Seymour and Ms. Hall are at odds about how many candidates should appear on the ballot for the Nov. 5 election.

A lawsuit to get three mayoral candidates on the ballot in November, filed by voter Samuel S. Thomas, has been adjourned until Wednesday.

The issue stems from the mayoral race being nonpartisan, and the city’s law doesn’t have a provision in place for ties.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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