Fresno city officials offered a $250,000 down payment to the county elections office on Friday in a bid to keep the county from derailing the June 4 vote on privatizing city trash service.
County supervisors are concerned about the costs of holding a series of unexpected elections in coming months -- and whether the city will pay its share -- and earlier this week asked the city to pony up a $750,000 advance.
Supervisor Henry Perea said Friday that he thought the city's offer to pay a portion upfront seemed reasonable, though he wasn't sure it was enough.
"I'm not certain whether the Board (of Supervisors) will accept this small amount, but we're getting to a point where we need to either cancel the election or move forward with it," Perea said.
The Board of Supervisors, as the overseer of the county elections office, has final say over whether an election goes forward. On Tuesday, the board refused to sign off on the city's June 4 contest. Supervisors wanted Perea, as the chairman, to first explore ways to lower the county's election costs.
The elections office has been tasked with holding and partly financing not only the city election, but also a special election to replace former state Sen. Michael Rubio, a Bakersfield Democrat who resigned in February.
The Senate primary is scheduled for May 21 with a July 23 runoff, if needed.
To cut expenses, county supervisors also looked at consolidating the city election with the Senate primary, but state election law didn't afford flexibility to marry the dates.
While asking the city to pay for its election in advance is highly unusual, Perea said so are the current circumstances.
"We've got two special elections and we're dealing with one of our cities that is on the verge of bankruptcy," he said.
The Mayor's Office issued a statement late Friday signaling the city's willingness to work with the county on its pay-upfront proposal.
"The city is sympathetic to the extra workload the County Clerk's office is taking on and is willing to pay as we go to ensure the county's staffing needs are covered," the statement from spokesman Michael Lukens said.
Representatives from the city and county spoke by telephone Friday afternoon.
County officials said the city offered to pay $250,000 in increments before June 4.
Earlier this week, the Mayor's Office sent a letter to the county saying that the city was willing to pay some of the election costs in advance, but not all.
The Mayor's Office also said this week that it was not willing to change its election date.
When county officials learned they could not consolidate the city election with the Senate primary, they asked the city to move its election to July 23, the day of the Senate runoff. The city declined, saying that it was counting on the election for needed income.
"We're not willing to further delay the election because it means additional cuts to employees and services for the city," Lukens said Thursday.
The mayor has been pushing privatization of residential trash service as a way of delivering $2.5 million of annual franchise fees into the city coffers. Each month that passes without the franchise, Lukens said, the city is forfeiting more than $200,000.
The City Council approved privatization last year, but union leaders initiated a petition drive and forced the issue to a vote.
The cost of holding the upcoming elections is relatively small. But it's an unexpected expense on city and county budgets and comes during particularly tight times.
The city election is projected to cost between $750,000 and $950,000, a tab that the city is responsible for but normally is billed months after the election.
The county is on the hook for the cost of the Senate race in Fresno County, which could run $1.3 million. Three other counties in the Senate district will also hold and finance the special election.
Fresno County elections chief Brandi Orth said consolidating the city and Senate contests, which share about 74,000 voters, would shave about $125,000 off the cost of each election.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss Tuesday whether to approve the city's June 4 election date and accept the down payment of $250,000.
This week's flap over election terms is largely unprecedented. While many onlookers say it's as much political theater as it is a serious threat to the vote, the dispute has been a distraction for civic leaders as well as a headache for election officials who are trying to plan for their busy spring.
"I'm not feeling very relaxed at the moment," Orth said. "It would be nice if we had a definitive answer, but whatever it is, we will handle it."
Jeff Cummins, an associate professor of political science at Fresno State, said it's unlikely -- as well as irresponsible -- for the county to stop the city election.
"I think there would be more cooperation if the two had a better past," Cummins said. "I think it's just a sign of the financial times and how desperate they are for cash."