Jan 14, 2013 5:58 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Santa Maria taxpayers could be on the hook for a $200K special election

Tuesday night, the Santa Maria City Council will try, once again, to decide how to fill its vacant council seat.

Discussions stalled last month when the four seated members were gridlocked on what to do.

The vacancy was created when Alice Patino won the mayoral election in November.

Etta Waterfield, who lost her run for city council by two votes, and former councilmember Mike Cordero have both expressed a desire to fill Patino's seat.

At last month's meeting, Patino and Bob Orach voted to appoint Waterfield, but Terri Zuniga and Jack Boysen supported taking applications from the general public.

If the council members can't reach an agreement, this process could drag out for months, ending in a costly special election.

Tuesday night, the council will face a complex decision: appoint someone to the seat, open the seat to all applicants, or serve as a four-person council until early June, when a $200,000 special election decides the fate of the seat.

It is a cost city spokesperson Mark Van De Kamp says they can't afford.

According to Van De Kamp, under current council rules, as long as they have a least four members seated, they can carry out normal business.
However, it can create problems when members come up deadlocked on certain issues.

"Getting business done with four people could be achieved but with five that's the way it's designed, and it's designed that way for a purpose," said Van De Kamp, "It serves as not only a tie-breaker, but also to further the discussion between council members."

Van De Kamp said one thing they won't have to worry about is budget approval. The council has already approved the two-year budget, covering city expenses through 2014.

The council members have said they want to avoid an expensive special election.
If they do not appoint someone Tuesday night and open up applications to the public, all applications will have to be submitted by February 5.
The council will then interview applicants and must appoint someone to the seat by February 16.

If the seat is pushed to a special election, the election would be held June 4, and the city wouldn't have certified results until late July or early August.
Tuesday's council meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.



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