23 Ohio counties get break - no May primary

CINCINNATI (AP) - With no countywide ballot issues, more than a quarter of Ohio's 88 counties are being spared the expense of an election in the May 5 primaries.

That's good news in places like Clinton County, in southwest Ohio, where private and public budgets alike have been devastated by the loss of about 8,000 jobs at Wilmington Air Park.

Elections Director Betsy Hart knows about cutbacks in both sectors; her husband is losing his job as an aircraft inspector.

"The situation in Wilmington is just awful," she said.

County commissioners were relieved to learn they would not have to foot the bill for a May primary, which typically costs about $36,000 to $40,000 for the mostly rural county.

"I think they were thrilled," Hart said.

The cost could have topped $100,000 in nearby Clark County, which includes Springfield, based on about $1,100 for each of the county's 100 precincts, elections Director Mark Oster said.

"We looked back in the records, and it's been at least 20 years since we didn't have a primary in May," Oster said. "We have 10 townships and 12 school districts, so we were pretty surprised not to have a single issue. It may be a sign of the economy."

Most of the 23 counties not holding countywide elections are among Ohio's less populous ones. The biggest, Lucas County, includes Toledo and has about 442,000 residents. There's also Butler County, north of Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, communities and school districts will vote on nearly 400 local issues, according to the secretary of state's office. And the counties will incur costs from these local elections but can recoup some of the expenses for equipment and poll workers.

In Hamilton County, the May primary will cost more than $300,000, although there are no federal, state or countywide issues for voters to decide, said Board of Elections Director Sally Krisel. But the board will be able to bill the communities and school districts for much of the cost.

"It's going to come out of some taxpayers' budget somewhere," Krisel said.

This year's ballots in Hamilton County are among the lightest in several years - just nine issues affecting suburban schools and communities - but Krisel said she can't see a time when the county would not have a May primary at all.

"We have so many jurisdictions, there's always somebody who wants to do something," she said.

In suburban Cincinnati's Forest Hills School District, where officials are seeking a new 6.9-mill levy that would cost homeowners an extra $205 on each $100,000 in assessed value, about 40 administrators and principals have agreed to freeze their salaries this school year. Superintendent John Patzwald has said a freeze will save the district about $100,000.

"Members of the administrative team are painfully aware of the impact the struggling economy is having on members of our communities," Patzwald told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "Knowing this, an administrative salary freeze at this time seemed like what should be done."

Sycamore Community Schools, in Cincinnati's northern suburbs, is seeking a smaller replacement levy of 5.5 mills.

"We feel fortunate that we are only asking for a renewal in these tough economic times," said spokeswoman Erika Daggett. "It won't raise taxes, but it will help maintain the level of excellence that people in our district expect."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)