A public hearing will be held on the issue Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the high school library.
Currently the voting takes place at all four elementary schools from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. According to District Clerk Sherry Francello, there are 20 registrars hired for the day, as well as numerous police officers. Two years ago, the cost was approximately $5,000. Francello wasn’t certain of the cost last year, since there was security already stationed in the buildings.
The proposal to make the change to a single location in the junior high gymnasium was met with some challenges by trustees, who suggested saving a small amount of money could cause a host of other troubles.
Bringing hundreds of adults into buildings with elementary school children is a matter of concern in our post-Columbine society. Police provide security, but the worry is still there. Last year, board President George Heidcamp said the district received an email from a Cahill parent concerned about student safety only a few days prior to the vote. In response, he and Superintendent Seth Turner moved the location from the cafeteria to the gymnasium, with a single exit and entrance, where no students would be that day. He acknowledges the district must do all that it can since the “number-one issue” is ensuring student safety.
Trustee Krista Barringer pointed out that, no matter what the district decides in regards to the location of the school vote, the national elections in November would still be held at the elementary schools, so safety is still an issue. Heidcamp said Election Day is typically a superintendent’s conference day, when students are not required to attend school.
Turner said one of the complaints residents have made in the past is parking, particularly at Riccardi and Cahill. Heidcamp said last year especially, when the location of the voting at Cahill was moved to the gymnasium, elderly residents complained about the long walk from their cars to the voting booth.
Ham said parking would also be an issue at the junior high school, and asked to hear a plan for how parking would be handled if the decision was made to move to a single polling location.
Voter turn out
Heidcamp lamented the poor turnout typical of school budget votes. He said every year since 2007 there are approximately 13,000 registered voters in Saugerties. Every year, 10,000 of them stay home. Heidcamp said “I don’t know where they are,” but each of those 10,000 will complain about their taxes regardless of not taking part in the vote.
Trustees wondered whether moving to a single polling location would further diminish the number of people who turn out to vote.
Barringer brought up the library budget vote, which takes place on a single day in a single location. Barringer said the turnout is notoriously low for that vote, making her question whether a single location may further lessen the number of voters.
One of the solutions proposed to increase turnout was to provide transportation. Hyatt said senior citizens, who have a relatively high rate of voting compared to other demographics, might find it difficult to get to the single polling place. She suggested perhaps providing transportation for them in the middle of the day.
Turner suggested holding an event, such as an art or music show at the junior high, might draw residents who would be able to vote and enjoy some culture at the same time.
Ham, who said one of the things that draws voters out to their neighborhood elementary schools to vote is the fundraisers or ice cream socials parents put together on that evening, wondered if the PTA organizations from each elementary school might be given a table to draw their own constituents.