City council: Anger rises over $15,158 primary election cost

By Jason Hawk -

Phil Van Treuren

Phil Van Treuren

Joe Miller

Political potshots hit the floor of city council Monday when Amherst mayor Mark Costilow asked for extra cash to cover last year’s election expenses.

His office recently received a bill for $21,158.20 from the Lorain County Board of Elections.

Just under $6,000 of that was used to fund the November election at the city’s nine voting precincts. The large remainder stemmed from Amherst’s primary election.

Here’s the rub: While it cost $15,158, there were no contested races in the primary.

In fact, only 174 people voted citywide. That means Amherst taxpayers spent $87.11 per ballot cast in an election that had no impact whatsoever on candidates.

There is one exception. On the city’s south side, in a corner of the city that lies within the Firelands school district, 19 residents cast votes on Issue 13, a Firelands tax levy renewal.

Costilow previously put $20,000 in the city’s 2016 permanent budget, which is under consideration now by council. He asked Monday for another $1,200 in the account covering election expenses.

The request opened the door to political heat between council members, particularly at-larges Joe Miller and Phil Van Treuren.

“It’s a little silly that we are paying for a primary where there were no choices at all,” said Van Treuren.

“For us to grind it on the floor of council is just a political shot,” Miller replied.

There would have been no primary at all last spring were it not for a technicality in Ohio election laws.

Last February, Justin Stevens filed to challenge the Amherst city council president seat long held by fellow Democrat John Dietrich.

Stevens withdrew March 3 but under state law the primary was required to go on, not just for that one race but all with unopposed Amherst Democrats.

“The cost of democracy,” Miller described the situation Monday. “I don’t see the cost of democracy being that exorbitant at $21,000.”

Van Treuren disagreed.

“I’d like the residents to consider how much street repair could have been done with that,” he said.

Their argument over politicization of the primary cost grew so loud that Dietrich used a gavel to end it.

The city budget will get a final reading when council meetings again in full session March 14.

It must include increased cash to cover last year’s elections, according to auditor David Kukucka. The payment is non-negotiable.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

Phil Van Treuren Van Treuren

Joe Miller Miller

By Jason Hawk