MOUNT PLEASANT — Asking residents to vote on term extensions for town council members could cost up to $20,000, Town Administrator Mac Burdette said.
That's almost double the cost of the 2006 town election.
Council voted 5-3 on Dec. 5 in favor of posing the advisory referendum question to voters March 18.
Burdette wrote in a memo that he favors letting the Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration run the election, even though it would cost about $22,000 because the county pays its poll workers more. It would cost the town about $13,000 to run the election.
"I realize $20,000 is a lot of money, but this referendum will be right in the middle of our budget preparation, so it would help if the county could do the work," Burdette told the council.
The elections board will consider the town advisory referendum today at its regular meeting, according to the agenda.
"The county Board of Elections is most qualified to run the election," Burdette said Tuesday. "A lot of people don't understand that an advisory referendum has to be run exactly like an election for the president of the United States. We've got to make sure it's done right."
Mayor Harry Hallman and Councilmen Billy Swails and Nick Collins voted against the referendum.
Mayor Pro Tem Kruger Smith, who was not at the Dec. 5 meeting, called the referendum "worthless" and said it was pandering to a vocal minority.
Hallman, who vowed to bring the issue back before council in January, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Council voted to extend its terms and move the next election from September 2008 to November 2009 as part of a statewide effort to consolidate municipal elections. The town would turn its elections over to the county Board of Elections.
Councilman Gary Santos held a town meeting on the council term extension issue that drew about 50 people, including former Gov. James B. Edwards, who said he thinks it is inappropriate for a sitting council to vote to extend its terms.
Santos sponsored the council- approved advisory referendum. "This is a decision that is going to change Mount Pleasant elections from here on out," he said. "I think it's the proper thing to do."
The September 2006 election drew only 11 percent of registered voters. Supporters of the term extensions argue that moving the vote to an odd-year general election would improve turnout. Opponents question whether a new election date would really make much difference, citing a lack of supporting data regarding improved turnout.
Santos said council members should be elected to new, longer terms instead of voting to extend their current terms. Santos said he favors the town handling the election at the lower cost.
By law, elections in South Carolina are for two-year or four-year terms, so term extensions would be the way to move an election from September 2008 to November 2009, Town Attorney Allen Young has said.