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In a move that may save costs, vote for open council seats will piggyback onto countywide election

In a reluctant but unanimous vote last Tuesday, La Cañada Flintridge City Council members agreed to consolidate the city's March 7 general municipal election to fill two open council seats with a special countywide election planned for the same day.

The Dec. 6 vote came just hours after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to place a 10-year, quarter-cent sales tax before voters in a special election to combat homelessness. If approved, the measure would help generate $335 million annually to fund programs and strategies for nearly 47,000 homeless citizens currently residing in L.A. County.

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City Manager Mark Alexander weighed consolidation versus running a standalone election. The former would likely create a cost savings, but would also mean locals may have to wait for countywide election results to be tabulated before learning who'd won the council race.

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Insisting on a standalone election, on the other hand, would probably cost more and potentially have voters casting ballots at two separate polling locations or vote-by-mail destinations, one for the city's election and one for the county's. But if the city held its own election, the results would be made available to the public sooner, and the city would have more control over operating the process.

Another point considered is a new state rule requiring all general municipal elections being held on the same day as a county election to automatically consolidate with county agencies by 2018.

Alexander said county officials first estimated it would cost the city about $29,500 to hold a consolidated election, the amount being contingent upon how many other cities with March elections agreed to merge their ballots. By comparison, La Cañada had budgeted $96,425 to hold its own election.

Skeptical the cost would be contained to that low amount, Alexander asked county officials for a not-to-exceed guarantee and was given a promissory letter indicating that the maximum La Cañada Flintridge would be charged for a consolidated, county-run election would be $45,000.

"This is not an agreement, so we don't have anything to hold the county to as a breach of this commitment," Alexander said. "Nonetheless, they have put in writing that they will run the election for us at a cost not to exceed $45,000. With that sort-of guarantee, the city would recognize a significant savings if we were to consolidate."

Realizing the cost savings, council members said Tuesday consolidating the election seemed the most prudent move.

"I have mixed feelings, mainly about not getting results for a couple or three days," said Councilman Dave Spence, who along with Mayor Jon Curtis, recently filed to run for reelection in March. "But being fiscally conservative in my approach to local government … I feel a little obligated to consolidate."

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Davitt said he was a bit wary La Cañada would "become a little fish in a big pond," but said it wouldn't be fair to put separate elections and ballots before the same voters.

Councilwoman Terry Walker expressed some ambivalence as well.

"I came in here tonight thinking I had my mind all made up to keep it local because I like the local control," she said. "(But) we're talking one election. It's going to happen anyway — we may as well get used to the process, save $45,000 and move forward."

Voting figures provided by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk's Office indicate there are currently 14,835 registered voters living in La Cañada Flintridge. Of those, 6,636 residents submit their votes by mail, according to Alexander.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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