$17K election cost in line with other municipalities

By HASKEL BURNS,

The April 23 special election to decide whether to implement an additional 1 percent sales tax on Hattiesburg restaurants, hotels and motels will run the city several thousand dollars, but officials say that cost is in line with other municipalities and is essential for a fair election.

Earlier this week, Hattiesburg City Council members approved sole-source purchase with Election Systems and Software in Jackson in an amount not to exceed $17,940 for the rental of equipment and services for the upcoming election.

“We run our elections in line with state law, and with best practices,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “So in order to have a secure election, with correct voting technology and machinery, that’s what we’re always going to do.”

The $17,940 cost includes five days of technician support at $835 a day for a total of $4,175; delivery and rental of 34 TSX machines and peripherals for $12,410, which includes voter access cards, supervisor cards and administrator cards; and database coding support for $1,355.

In a letter to the mayor and city council members, City Clerk Kermas Eaton said the ballot used by the city is an optical scan ballot provided by ES&S, and ballots are purchased under the provisions of Section 31-7-13(m) (xvi) of the Mississippi Code of 1972.

“The optical scan ballot supplied by this company cannot be used on any other system except and ES&S model scanner,” the letter states.

The last time a single item appeared in a special election was May 2018, when a school bond for the Hattiesburg Public School District passed with a 93.97 percent approval rate. That election cost the city only $16,482.10, because fewer precincts were used than the 14-city wide precincts that will be used in the sales tax election.

“We opened five precincts last year – one in each ward – because a lot of the city is not in the school district,” Barker said. “So now that you’re opening the entire city, you have to open every precinct, so you’re going to be paying more with this.

In contrast, the 2017 municipal election featuring mayoral and city council candidates cost the city $81,996.

In order to pass the additional one percent sales tax, 60 percent of voters must vote to approve the measure at the April 23 election. If passed, the tax will help fund approximately 17 Parks and Recreation Department projects around the city, as well as improvements at Reed Green Coliseum at the University of Southern Mississippi.

The tax, which is expected to bring approximately $4.2 million in new revenue – will begin to be collected on June 1 be in effect until June 30, 2022. Fifty percent of the revenue will go to the Parks and Recreation projects, with the other half going to the coliseum.

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