YORK, Maine — Town Clerk Mary-Anne Szeniawski said she is concerned about “voter fatigue” at town elections each May, given the 14 or more ballots voters are handed. But she and other town officials will soon be getting together in hopes of finding ways to streamline that cumbersome process in time for this May’s election.
Szeniawski made her comments Thursday night at a Budget Committee meeting, saying she has long sought solutions to the length of the town’s budget referendum, which can often run to 150 or more line-item questions. The cost per ballot is 25 cents, she said, and last May, there were 14 ballots. She said she typically orders enough for 5,000 voters, although when there is a hot issue — as there will be this May with the York Community Auditorium — she often orders more.
“So even if you can reduce it by one ballot, that’s 25 cents by 5,000,” she said.
She said she also researched how many people actually voted against measures on the ballot. For instance, of 85 capital items voted on during the past five years, only four were defeated, she said.
Budget Committee Chairman Charles Steedman suggested she sit down with him and Town Manager Steve Burns to find ways to streamline the process for this May’s ballot.
“That would be very helpful,” Szeniawski said. “I think we could be more efficient in getting the work of the town done.”
Burns said later that bond questions each repeat “boilerplate” language that could be consolidated. Another area to consider is eliminating “statements of fact” with questions, and including that information in material sent to voters before Election Day. He also said if line items are unchanged from the one year to the next, those items could be grouped together.
Szeniawski also said to the committee why her elections budget in general has nearly doubled in size. Last year, the town was a test site for a new, high-speed ballot reader, after she told the state she was frustrated with new state-mandated digital tabulators that took longer to count ballots. Next year, however, the town has to lease the ballot readers, bringing her elections budget from $25,000 this fiscal year to $48,000 in fiscal year 2016.
Also presenting his budget Thursday night was York Police Chief Doug Bracy. He said “95 percent” of the department’s operating budget increase is driven by salaries and benefits. Beyond that, he said, “there’s not a lot of changes.”
The 4.5 percent increase “is more than I’d like to see,” Steedman said. “I would hope that next year, it’s not the same.”
The committee also discussed a $215,000 capital request to purchase new dispatch consoles for the police station. Bracy said the department has “really held off, because we projected it out to do in the new police station. The problem is we’ve put off a new system two or three years longer than we should have.”
The police station project, first approved by voters in 2011, has been mired in problems since and substantial construction has still not started. The consoles at the station are so old that replacement parts are not made any longer, Burns said.
“If the equipment goes at any time, we don’t have a contingency to cover this kind of money,” Bracy said.
Several other departments presented budgets as well, as the town wrapped up its presentations to the committee Thursday. A public hearing on the town and school budgets as well as the proposed York Community Auditorium will take place Feb. 24.