By DAVID SKOLNICK
A proposal to eliminate at least 37 voting precincts in a cost-cutting move may be delayed until the May 2011 election, the chairman of the Mahoning County Board of Elections said.
The board is on pace to be $185,000 over its $1.32 million budget this year, and is looking to reduce its expenses.
One suggestion from election Director Thomas McCabe and Deputy Director Joyce Kale-Pesta is to cut precincts, at least 37 of them, to bring the number down from 287 to 250.
The board saves $700 for each precinct it eliminates, McCabe said. Voters in closed precincts would be moved to other, nearby precincts, most likely in the same polling location, he said.
Eliminating 37 precincts would save $25,900.
“We’re still going back and forth on precinct reductions this November,” McCabe said. “It’s a matter of how many and when.”
The board will meet at 8 a.m. next Friday to discuss proposed cuts, including eliminating precincts.
But board Chairman Bob Wasko said he has concerns about cutting precincts in November.
“Next year, there won’t be a lot of activity” at polling locations, he said. “We expect to be busy” in this year’s general election.
Even-year elections have better turnout than odd-year elections. That’s because of state and federal races in even years.
“We might want to wait till next year [to cut precincts] because of voter confusion when these things happen,” Wasko said.
Precinct cuts would be done in a way to minimize voters having to go to a different polling location, McCabe said.
“We’ll do it without impacting voters,” he said. “We’ll get the word out about precinct changes. We’re trying to do our part to save money for the county.”
The board is required under federal law this year to send postcards to all registered voters about their election locations sometime in September, McCabe said.
The board reduced the number of precincts nine years ago from 412 to 309, and got down to 287 precincts in 2006.
Also impacting a plan to reduce precincts, Wasko said, is the relocation of the board of elections office from the county’s South Side Annex building, its home since 1977, on Market Street, to Oakhill Renaissance Place on Oak Hill Avenue.
The move should be finished by the first week of September, Wasko and McCabe said.
The Oakhill location is a better fit for the elections board with larger warehouse space to store voting equipment, McCabe said.
The board reduced its costs by about $200,000 in January. That included having six of its clerks work nine months a year, which reduced their annual salaries by about $9,000 each. The board also reduced the starting salary for employees by about $14,000 annually and cut the number of its part-time workers.
New cuts being proposed by McCabe include increasing employee health-care premium contributions from 10 percent to 20 percent, and closing on Fridays during the slow months of the year to reduce salaries of those working at the board by 20 percent during those weeks.