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Benicia Council Moves Closer to Pushing Elections to Even Years

A formal discussion on the proposed change, which would extend the terms of every council member by one year, is scheduled for Feb. 19.

The Benicia City Council said Tuesday night it wants to explore the idea of changing the date of the city elections as a way to increase voter turnout and save money, although no firm figures were presented.

The council may move city elections back by a year and hold them in even years so they match the date of Solano County Supervisor races and other area contests. A formal ordinance will be voted on at the council's Feb. 19 meeting, and could be finalized in March; the county board of supervisors would then need to OK the change.

In order to move the election date, all council members would have to extend their terms by one year: the council members who would normally be up for reelection this year wouldn't be on the ballot until 2014, and so on. There would be a one-time cost of about $8,500 associated with the change, because the city would have to notify every voter by mail.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said the city has a duty to try to increase voter turnout, and placing the city on the ballot with higher-profile state and federal elections could do the trick.

Council Member Alan Schwartzman said he liked the idea of giving residents "a year off from any kind of campaigning" by having city elections fall in the same year as other races.

Some other council members were in favor of the city saving money, but didn't like the appearance of doing something in their own self-interest.

Vice Mayor Tom Campbell said he was uncomfortable with the idea of local politicians "unilaterally extending their terms."

"It would have to be a pretty huge cost saving for me to go along with it," he said.

City Attorney Heather McLaughlin said it would be difficult to get an exact figure for that because the amount the city saves would depend on how many other items are placed on the ballot by the county and other government bodies.

Council Member Mark Hughes was also hesitant about the idea of a change.

"I was amazed to hear we have the authority to make this change," he said. "I would like to hear what the public really thinks about this."

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