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Johns Creek Exploring Election Alternatives

City wants to find a cheaper way to run elections after this year.

While Fulton County will continue to oversee Johns Creek's municipal elections this year, the city is looking at alternatives due to the high cost of paying for the county's service.

Municipal elections are slated for Nov. 8, and the city of Johns Creek is studying its intergovernmental agreement with Fulton County to run its elections. 

The Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections administers the voter registration and elections process for residents of Fulton County and its 14 municipalities, including Johns Creek. The department oversees every facet of the election process, from voter registration, providing equipment and staffing polling stations, precinct management and counting ballots. 

Given the current economic climate, Johns Creek is looking at ways in reducing costs across the board and this includes the administration of elections, which it feels are too high. At the May 23 city council work session, John Kachmar, city manager, reviewed the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Fulton County for the 2011 elections and found the associated costs of $101,800 and the additional fee of $86,868 if there is a run-off, slated for Dec. 8, are high. 

The city is looking at whether managing the elections in-house or having another county conduct the elections would be feasible. Contracting another county to oversee the process would require clearance from the Department of Justice.

Doug Nurse, communications manager, said managing the elections process in-house isn’t feasible, since Fulton County is already equipped for this and the costs would be exorbitant. Kachmar also expressed reservations at the prospect of Johns Creek overseeing its own elections. He said it is cost prohibitive for the city to go it alone and, while there have been discussions with other areas to share election costs, nothing has been decided. For example, contracting with Cobb County to oversee the elections would mean Johns Creek residents would have to register there and not close to where they live. 

Mayor Mike Bodker has expressed concern at the costs from Fulton County, particularly since what the county charges is vastly higher than any surrounding county.

One of the problems may lie in how the county calculates its fees. Fulton County calculates the cost of an election and runoff before the votes actually take place and charges the cities up front. Other counties, such as Cobb, handle it differently. It provides a cost estimate to the city before the election and sends a bill after the actual costs are determined. That alleviates having to run the risk of overpaying or underpaying for the election.

Additionally, Fulton charges cities like Johns Creek for elections when they don’t hold them – if there is only one candidate qualifying for a post, they still assess a fee. 

The county also pays its temporary election workers at a higher rate than other counties and hires certified trainers instead of having its staff train the poll workers. Johns Creek officials have said that passing those costs on to the city isn’t fair and is just another tactic to get more money for the county's coffers.

The city council approved the IGA with Fulton County for conducting the 2011 elections this year due to time constraints, but will continue to explore other avenues to oversee its elections, though it may prove futile and not cost-efficient to change course.

The city council seats up for election include Post 2, which will be vacant since Dan McCabe isn’t seeking reelection;  while Ivan Figueroa, Post 4, and Bev Miller, Post 6, are both seeking third terms. The qualifying dates are Aug. 29-31, and the qualifying fee is $450. The city council also approved adding Sunday alcohol sales to the ballot.

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