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State May Ease Cost of Election for Ventura


Gov. Pete Wilson's decision to call a Nov. 2 special election may be good news for the city of Ventura and the Ventura Unified School District.

Not because of the school voucher question he wants to put on the ballot, which most public schools oppose; or the one-cent sales tax increase that would allow counties to restore some of the services that have been slashed by state budget cuts.

But by stepping into what would have been a quiet off-year election with only a handful of races on the ballot, the state is expected to cover much of the costs of the election--saving the city and school district thousands of dollars, said Bruce Bradley, assistant county voter registrar.

With state participation, the city and school district each would pay about $12,000 for the election, Bradley said. He said if they were the only races on the ballot, the cost would have been about $40,000.

In the east county community of Oak Park, where elections for the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council and Oak Park Unified School District would have been the only issues on the ballot, the election is expected to cost each agency about $3,000 instead of $7,500, Bradley said.

Gov. Wilson has not issued a formal election proclamation, and Bradley said the state has not yet said whether it will pay its share of election costs.

Usually, he said, the county finances general elections, but the state pays for special elections that are called by the governor.

"It would be a big cost savings for any of those districts who were going to piggyback onto the election," Bradley said.

Officials in the affected agencies said they were unaware of the difference in costs.

"We are probably going to be evaluating that after this election is over," said Joe Richards, assistant superintendent for business for the Ventura school district. Richards said many of the administrators are new and were not familiar with the difference.

"Anything that can save $4,000 is worth looking into," said Assistant Oak Park Supt. Stan Mantooth.

Bradley said there are other potential elections this year in a variety of small jurisdictions, including the Ocean View Elementary School District, the Camrosa Water District, the Meiner's Oaks County Water District, the Ventura River Municipal Advisory Council, the Saticoy Sanitary District, the Ojai Water Conservation District and the Fillmore-Piru Memorial District.

Because those agencies typically do not have contested elections, they do not appear on the ballot.

The increasing cost of off-year elections is making them rarer, Bradley said.

Many county school boards, community college districts and other agencies have shifted their elections to coincide with gubernatorial and presidential elections in even-numbered years to save money.

The city of Ventura faces a special problem when it comes to changing election dates.

Election dates are fixed in the city charter, and any changes must be approved by voters--at an off-year election--City Clerk Barbara Kam said. In 1986, a blue-ribbon committee that drafted proposed charter amendments considered moving city elections to even-numbered years, but decided not to take that proposal to voters, Kam said.

Committee members felt that "a council election has a tendency to get lost amidst the myriad of ballot issues that get on the general ballot," Kam said.

But while local elections get more attention at off-year elections, voters care less.

A 1991 election for the Oak Park council cost Oak Park taxpayers about $3,000, but only 20% of the eligible voters turned out, Bradley said.

In that election, he said, the Ventura River Municipal Advisory Council, a panel representing the communities of Casitas Springs, Oak View, Meiner's Oaks and Mira Monte, netted only a 15% voter turnout at a election cost of $5,000.

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