Columbia County commissioners have taken note recently of just how expensive voting can be, especially when it involves only one item from the Board of Education.
Chairman Ron Cross says the county must pay for all elections.
At issue is a March 15 ballot that the Columbia County school board set up to have residents vote on their next special purpose local option sales tax proposal. At a recent County Commission meeting, a question arose about whether the county would be responsible for picking up the tab - $38,000 - for the school-tax vote.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the issue was later checked out, and it has been determined that the county will be liable for the election cost.
"We are obligated to pay for that election,'' Cross said. "We're obligated to pay for all elections.''
Some county commissioners now question whether it's a cost that could have been averted if better coordination occurred between the school board and the county, which held its special purpose local option sales tax referendum in July and held the general election in November.
Commissioner Steve Brown said better communication is needed between the county and board of education concerning elections to see whether referendum questions can be included on the same ballot in the future.
Brown and Cross said they plan to meet with board of education officials on the issue at their next meeting early next year.
"It is a legitimate concern and we'll talk to them to say, 'Can this be coordinated?''' Cross said. "This is not new, but it's possible that there could be some coordination to avoid a single-item referendum. Any election you can combine, you're that much ahead.''
School board member Wayne Bridges said he believes the school system's special purpose local option sales tax didn't come up in the November general election because a bond referendum was delayed and school board members wanted the bond and sales tax to be on the same ballot.
"We probably could have done the (special purpose local option sales tax) in the Nov. 2 election, but we wanted to tie the two together, because they go hand in hand," he said.
Bridges said he would welcome more cooperation with the commission on elections, but he would be cautious about adding another question to the school board's one-cent sales tax ballot in March.
Cross said it's likely the school board's sales tax issue will be the only issue on the ballot in March. He said the county has one issue - a proposal for a sports and entertainment arena - to go before voters in a referendum next year.
However, Cross said results must first come back from a committee on the arena idea before it can be put before voters. He said the deadline to get that issue on the ballot with the school board sales tax would be hard to meet, meaning another election in 2005 will most likely have to occur, again costing the county about $30,000.
"We're not going to have it ready by March, I'm sure,'' Cross said about the arena question. "But if we can have some recommendation (from the county's arena committee), we can certainly put it on that ballot.''
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