Watertown, Jefferson County dispute who’s supposed to pay for elections

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 5:56 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A 30-year-old law, a ten-year-old dispute, and a $40,000 invoice have the city of Watertown and Jefferson County pointing fingers at one another over who’s supposed to pick up the tab for the cost of casting a ballot.

Watertown feels it’s being treated unfairly by the county. At the same time, the Jefferson County Board of Elections says it is simply following the law.

The argument stems back from what Watertown City Council did in 1993.

Mayor Jeff Smith says Watertown has not paid Jefferson County for holding city elections because other towns and villages don’t pay for the service. The dispute was brought up Monday night at the city council meeting.

“They have to charge everybody equally. So when they hold elections in towns and villages, they weren’t charging them. They were only charging the city. We were being treated unfairly,” said Smith.

The Board of Elections believes the mayor is mistaken.

The argument is over a law put on the books in 1993 by the Watertown City Council that comes down to the county running special elections for the city when otherwise it wouldn’t. Like a June primary where there are no other state or federal races. All the county work is being done for the city and the county feels it can charge Watertown for running that election.

“If they were uniformly charging everybody, the city would pay. It’s been our position you have to treat every election area in the county the same. Since they only wanted to charge the city, we didn’t pay,” said Smith.

“You’re asking us to treat you differently because you have your own law that you expect us to follow. Then when we ask you to pay the bill, that is outlined in your own law, you don’t pay it. It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Republican Elections Commissioner Jude Seymour.

What also didn’t make sense to Seymour was a statement by City Manager Ken Mix over a contract between the two parties.

“There is no agreement that I’m aware of. It’s all handled through New York state election law,” said Mix.

“You absolutely have an agreement. The agreement is the 1993 law that you went to the state and got home rule legislation that we’re expected to follow,” said Seymour.

The Jefferson County Board of Elections has kept a running tab for the election totals since the discovery of the 30-year-old law in 2013. The city’s current total for the last ten years sits at nearly $42,000.