Government

Kirkwood expects big increase in cost of its election

Overall Nov. 5 election costs up in Linn but down in Johnson

Voters on the right get their ballots as those on the left complete them Nov. 5 at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center in Iow
Voters on the right get their ballots as those on the left complete them Nov. 5 at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center in Iowa City. The election was the first in Iowa to combine school and municipal elections into one. The overall cost of holding the elections in Linn County increased over a comparable 2017 period, but decreased in Johnson County. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Correction: The biggest cost increase for the election in Johnson County went to College Community School District. All other increases were less than $1,000, and half of Johnson cities and schools saw a decrease in election costs.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Kirkwood Community College is being billed over $95,000 — with yet more invoices expected — for the Nov. 5 reelection of four members to its board of trustees.

This past election marked the first time Iowa law required combining municipal and school balloting into one — and the first time county officials had to figure out how to pay for it. The law didn’t specify.

Kirkwood was expecting higher charges, said Justin Hoehn, its associate director of marketing, but it would be good to have “more clarity” in how the college would be charged by the several counties in its election boundaries.

Kirkwood receives bills from each county where ballots are cast for a specific election, Hoehn said. The college is being billed $60,414 by Linn County, $25,000 more than in 2017; and $19,952, by Johnson County, almost $3,000 more than in 2017. As of Thursday morning, it also had received bills from Benton for $1,436, Cedar for $2,992, Iowa for $8,952, Washington for $1,352 and Louisa for $227.

The bill from Iowa County was “way more than we anticipated,” Hoehn said. In fiscal 2018, Kirkwood’s bill from there was $1,984.

Linn was the only county that reached out to Kirkwood before the election to discuss changes in billing, and a representative from Kirkwood attended a meeting with the county in December 2018, he said.

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“It wasn’t a situation where this was a surprise,” Hoehn said. “In terms of our Finance Department, they plan ahead and we’re going to be just fine.”

Johnson County cities and school districts didn’t see as drastic of an increase in billing for the combined election as did some Linn entities.

Johnson County is using a similar billing formula as Linn County — billing cities for 50 percent of the cost, school districts for 25 percent and Kirkwood for the remaining 25 percent.

While half of Johnson entities saw an increase in costs compared with Linn’s seven out of 33, those entities saw less dramatic increases.

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said bills didn’t increase as much there because Johnson opens all polling sites for every election anyway. Needing to open more polls for the combined election this time is one of the reasons Linn County officials gave for a higher cost.

“Our cities and schools were used to seeing the bills. Now those costs are spread among entities, and almost every school district and city saw a decrease in billing,” Weipert said.

The highest increase in Johnson County, besides the Kirkwood increase, were College Community for $1,164. All other increases were less than $1,000.

Unlike in Linn, the total cost of the combined elections in Johnson County actually dropped.

Weipert said a lot of the cost saving came from hiring poll workers for one election instead of hiring them for both a September school board election and a November municipal election.

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In Linn County, the total cost of the election increased. The county charged a technology fee to cover the cost of training and using iPads at polls to scan voter IDs after the voter ID law went into full effect this year.

Linn also opened all general election precincts and sent out a notice to voters, which cost an additional fee.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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