Future members for the Mineola Village Board will get to retain their seats longer after the current administration voted unanimously to extend the term of trustees and mayor from two years to four.
“The concept has generally been well-received and supported,” current mayor Scott Strauss said during a hearing on September 18 at the village hall, referring to the concept of biennial elections he has discussed in public forums he had held throughout the village over the course of the past year in which he met with residents of the various sections of the village to discuss the change.
Each of the members of the village board have cited increasing costs of holding elections as a primary reason for changing the elected terms due to the use of new electronic ballot-scanning machines and the phase-out of the old lever-style machines.
State legislation that has allowed local municipalities to continue to use the lever machines for the past two election cycles and which are scheduled to be decommissioned at the end of 2013. When using the electronic ballot scanners, municipalities must print ballots to cover 110 percent of registered voters within the district. There are approximately 12,000 registered voters within the village of Mineola, meaning about 13,000 ballots must be printed at a cost of 55 cents per ballot.
During a village election, turnout is relatively low, typically between 150-200 in uncontested contests. In the contested 2013 election, Strauss had received 930 votes, while trustee George Durham and new trustee Dennis Walsh received 840 and 853 votes, respectively. Incumbent Lawrence Werther, running as an independent candidate, received 469 votes.
“While this issue is not the controlling one, it is nonetheless a real one,” Strauss said of the costs, adding that the village has “no idea” on the exact figure to operate the new machines, but estimated it would “at least double.”
Currently the village expends about $10,000 per election, a sum that is expected to rise to $20,000 using electronic scanning.
“We stand to save that full amount over each two-year election cycle if we go to four-year terms,” Strauss said.
Mineola did have four-year terms at one point in the 1960’s according to Pereira, but then reverted to current two-year terms. Currently, neighboring villages of comparable size to Mineola – Williston Park, East Williston, Westbury, New Hyde Park, Rockville Centre, Freeport and Hempstead – all have four-year terms. Currently, the village justice in Mineola is also elected every four years.
“In terms of villages that are like ours, that have the complexity that we do, almost uniformly – I can’t think of one – that has a two-year term,” Pereira said. “There are issues that span over two-year terms.”
Several members of the board as well as the public stated that it takes time to become comfortable atop the dais and with the overall functioning of the village.
“It took me more than two years to understand the budget,” said trustee Paul Cusato, who has been on the board for 10 years and is the longest-serving member.
“It takes a long time to become familiar with the village’s complex budget, the creation of which is one of our most important functions,” the mayor said. “The functions of each department are learned only over time and only by interacting with each of them. Interaction with department heads and staff take time. Presiding over land use hearings, approving purchases, evaluating audits, all require a certain experience in office.”
Before taking public comment on the matter, Strauss said that he hoped that the measure would “take the politics out” of village elections and provide continuity as well as a sense of candidates constantly being in election state of mind. “Right now they say a person is barely in office when a new campaign begins.”
Acknowledging the possibility that if the public “votes in a bum” it would be four years before another candidate could be elected, the mayor stated that “the temptation to vote for a questionable candidate is too easy if there’s a fairly quick way to vote him or her out in two years.”
To make the change, a simple vote was required of the village board, but it was decided to hold a public hearing to gain residents’ opinions of the matter. However, the measure is subject to a “permissive referendum,” which would put the matter before voters to decide, but the signatures of 10 percent of the village’s voting population – about 2,000 – must be collected in order to hold a public vote.
The implementation of the four-year terms would not come immediately, as the four-year terms would have to be phased into place. The village’s next election would be in March 2014 with two seats up – those currently occupied by Pereira and Cusato. Neither seat would feature an extended term but would simply have the standard two years.
In 2016 those two trustee positions currently held by Pereira and Cusato would be up for the first four-year terms. In 2015, the positions of two trustees currently occupied by George Durham and Dennis Walsh and the mayorship would be up for one three-year term. In 2018 candidates for those three positions would run for four-year terms. It was stated that the measure was not necessarily for the current board members as they had not announced their candidacies.
“None of us could be on the board then,” Strauss commented.