What’s the cost to taxpayers when a petition makes a ballot?

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Save Austin Now wants voters to decide whether there should be more APD boots on the ground. The group says it has gotten more than 25,000 signatures on its petition and is awaiting the Austin City Clerk to certify it as a ballot measure for this November.

“We are sending a very clear message that this city supports law enforcement,” said cofounder Matt Mackowiak.

Should the petition be certified for November’s ballot, former UT Public Policy Professor Don Kettl says there will be a lot of work involved.

“What could be more democratic than having voters go to the polls and choose the kind of policies they want?” said Kettl. “But the problem is they don’t have to figure what the consequences are.”

Costs associated with verifying a petition mainly include staff time required to number the pages, count and verify signatures and pay a consultant to prepare a random sample to analyze the signatures, according to the City Clerk’s Office.

City Clerk Jannette Goodall added that costs associated with an election include translating documents into Spanish, publishing the election notice in the newspaper, hiring election judges and election clerks and maintaining voting equipment.

The Clerk’s Office budgets for elections each fiscal year. The budget for 2020-21 was a high, likely due to a presidential election and the camping ban proposal known as Proposition B.

The amount projected for the upcoming year is lower, but Goodall told us Tuesday the office hasn’t budgeted for the latest Save Austin Now ballot attempt.

“Costs for an election can vary for a variety of reasons that are unknown when the city puts together a budget estimate,” said Goodall. She added that budgets can get amended as the city learns more about the type of election, what other entities may be on the ballot, and how many elections there will be.

So what could a petition-driven election on police staffing cost?

For perspective, the municipal election in May included Proposition B and a number of other proposals. The clerk’s office tells us the total cost of that election was around $570,000. Goodall told us there is no specific cost by ballot measure.

Save Austin Now’s petition still must be certified by the clerk’s office. This could take 12 to 15 days.

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