City bids to move voting to Saturdays

By Lynn R. Parks

If changes proposed by the Seaford City Council to the city's charter are accepted by the General Assembly, the city will be holding all elections and referendums on Saturdays.

Citizens will also be able to vote in all elections and referendums by absentee ballot.

City residents most recently went to the polls on Sept. 28, to decide whether the city could borrow money from the state to build a solar park. (The measure passed, 102 to 23.) The referendum was held on a Monday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

At the city council's meeting Tuesday night, city manager Dolores Slatcher said that she had heard from a number of people who couldn't get to city hall to cast a ballot. Councilman Dan Henderson agreed.

"I have had personal contact with several voters who did not vote because they were not in town," he said.

Absentee ballots were available for the referendum. But because the citys charter does not specifically allow for absentee ballots for referendums, the decision to offer them was made late, under guidance from the state. Four people cast absentee ballots.

Henderson said that at the very least, voting on all city ballots should be open for the same number of hours. The polls for the solar referendum were open for four hours; polls for mayor and council elections are held on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., for five hours.

In addition, "it would relieve any confusion if all elections were held at a prescribed time," he said.

Councilman William Mulvaney agreed.

"Consistency is the key," he said.

Mayor David Genshaw said that it is the city's intent to allow as many residents to vote as possible.

"We want to make sure that we are giving the vast majority of people the best opportunity to cast a ballot, he said. "And if they cant be here, we are offering a viable option with the absentee ballot."

By unanimous vote, the council agreed to change the city charter to say that all voting, for whatever reason, will be held on Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The charter will specify that absentee ballots will be available for all votes. That change has to be OK'd by the General Assembly.

The General Assembly will also look at another recommendation from the city council, that it be allowed to offer tax abatement "to any economic development project that [it] determines beneficial." Now, the charter says that the council can give tax relief to manufacturing industries only.

In both cases, the relief can last for no longer than 10 years.

Henderson questioned the wisdom of including all types of businesses in the abatement program.

"We want to attract value-added businesses, not businesses that just bring money in from somewhere else and then send it back out," he said.

In addition, manufacturing businesses bring good jobs to town and attract people who will become active in the community, Henderson said.

But Genshaw argued that limiting the abatement program to manufacturing facilities prevents the city from attracting other types of businesses.

"We want to be as flexible as possible," he said. "Right now, we are limited by the charter."

Henderson also cautioned that with the proposed change, "we run the risk of having dozens and dozens of businesses coming in to ask for abatement."

Requests for abatement go before the city's economic development committee, which makes a recommendation to the council.

It's true that the council could turn them down, he added. But then, the council will have put itself in a position where it is angering small business owners in town, he said.

"I hear your caution," the mayor replied.

In the end, the council cast a unanimous vote to go ahead with the proposed charter change.

After the meeting, Genshaw said that the council, working with the city staff, will come up with guidelines for approval of the abatement.

The recommended charter changes will be sent to the city attorney for review. The city council will vote on the attorneys final draft at the next meeting, Oct. 27.

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