Annapolis' aldermen and alderwomen balked at the idea of spending $80,000 to lease the second floor of 93 Main St. for the city's Board of Elections.
"I would urge my colleagues to oppose this. We have known all along that we have an election every four years," Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson (D-4th Ward) said. "I think it’s irresponsible of us to spend an additional $80,000 out of that contingency fund. We are spending it because we are not doing proper planning."
The Board of Elections needs a space where it can train volunteers, register voters, and allow residents to vote absentee. With the 2013 election less than a year away, time is running out for the city to get its office space up and running.
In the past, the elections board was housed within the Office of Law because City Clerk Regina Watkins-Eldridge supervises Annapolis' elections.
That arrangement will not work for 2013, City Manager Mike Mallinoff said.
Due to ongoing renovations at City Hall, Annapolis is renting the third floor of 93 Main St. for the law offices. Malinoff said that space will not accommodate the law offices and the elections board because of one major change to the election process: The city needs to securely store all of its voting machines.
Finlayson asked whether the machines could be stored at another location in order to save some money.
Malinoff responded that poll workers and volunteers will need to be trained on the machines, and he thinks it would be best to house them near the clerk—who will be responsible for ensuring they remain secure until Election Day.
"There is no ideal in this," Malinoff said.
He urged council to accept the second floor of 93 Main St. as the best of a bad set of options. Renting the floor below the law offices makes sense to Malinoff because it would also prevent Watkins-Eldridge from having to shuttle back and forth between two locations.
"None of us are excited about spending more money to rent more space, but we should view this in the context of consolidating space," Mayor Josh Cohen said. "This is a one-year need that we have to address somehow."
Cohen said he intends to find a permanent home for the board once renovations are complete.
Aldermen Fred Paone (R-2nd Ward), Ian Pfieffer (D-7th Ward) and Ross Arnett (D-8th Ward) all wondered whether due diligence was done to secure the best location at the lowest possible price.
"This is a huge amount of money to spend for offices that we never had to spend before," Paone said. "The contingency fund is for emergencies, not throwing away $75,000 or $80,000 in rent. I think it’s incorrect, and we’re not doing the taxpayers a service."
The council decided to delay the vote until its Dec. 10 meeting and asked Malinoff to bring them a few more options.
Watkins-Eldridge cautioned the council against a long debate on the issue. With candidates filing and questions already coming in about 2013's election, she said the city needs a designated space for voters now.
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