Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sticker Shock, Literally

Johnson County's budget squeezer is taking a pause from the expense side and looking at revenue.

The county has hired a consultant to compare costs versus fees.  In the elections world, the major area that will be examined will be what we charge cities for elections.

I've mentioned before that the cities pay incremental costs when the election is less than countywide.  The laws are pretty specific about what can't be charged, but the areas that can be charged are more general in nature.

"Supplies," for instance--no question, we don't capture the full cost of polling place supplies, for instance.  We just don't have the resources to track all the costs and charge them back in a scientific way.

Take the "I Voted" sticker.  We buy a case of stickers once every couple of years.  A role is in each suitcase.  We know how many persons vote in an election and, theoretically, they each got a sticker (in person, at least), so we could do some cypherin' and recover the two cents per voter from the cities for stickers.

I'm sure the consultant will find more than unrecovered sticker costs.  I met with him today and expect that down the road we'll have some productive discussions where I give my view if I think he's struck gold or if he's drawing a conclusion that's probably outside the margins.

Then, he'll take his findings to the Board of County Commissioners, who will have to determine how much of the new costing model equates to a new pricing model.

It's a pretty good bet that the costs to jurisdictions for special elections will go up.  Probably the other area in line for its own version of sticker shock are maps that we produce as part of the Kansas Open Records Act.

We provide them electronically for free (or for $10 if we put them on a flash drive--to recover the cost of the flash drive).  We also charge $10 for printing the map, though, and I'm sure that barely covers the cost of toner.

Higher fees won't benefit our office.  They don't come back to the office to offset budget cuts.  They basically will go for the good of the order at the county level.

To a large degree, this whole process is good because essentially it's a third-party establishing fees.   It still will be an issue, though, particularly for candidates who get maps.  My advice to them is to buy a bevy of maps once redistricting is completed this summer.

Oh, redistricting--another topic for a future post.  The nuts and bolts of redistricting aren't an issue for us, but the timing will impact candidate filing deadlines and put a crunch into the August election.  More on that later.