CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With Mayor Danny Jones calling it one of the most significant things to happen during his time as mayor, Charleston City Council unanimously approved an election reform ordinance at its meeting Monday night.
The bill nixes separate city elections after the 2015 election cycle, and makes them coincide with those at the state and county level in non-presidential years. The first city election to coincide with the larger races will be in 2018.
"This is a big deal," Jones said. "It should've been done a long time ago."
In order to implement the change, city officials elected in 2015 will serve shortened terms -- about three years and six months versus four years.
The move is expected to save money and increase voter turnout, said South Hills Councilman Jack Harrison, one of the bill's sponsors.
"We will no longer be funding an election on our own," he said.
The Daily Mail reported earlier this month that prior city elections have had very low turnout, particularly compared to elections in presidential and non-presidential cycles.
During the last city election in May 2011, only 4,961 of the city's 38,303 registered voters cast ballots, or about 13 percent.
In comparison, 16,251 Charleston residents voted in the November 2010 general election, for a turnout of about 47 percent, according to the Kanawha County Voters Registration Office. Some precincts in South Hills had turnouts as high as 60 percent.
As of late September, voter registration records showed there are 38,978 registered voters in Charleston.
The ordinance also allows Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick to administer city elections starting in 2018, cleans up antiquated language in city code dealing with elections and schedules the city's 2015 elections on Saturdays.
Currently, schools are not closed for municipal elections days, meaning some precincts that vote at schools conduct voting while students are attending classes. Harrison said the Saturday elections would make it easier for schools.
"This truly is one of the most important things we've done in a long time," he said.
* Conducted a public hearing on a bill that would raise the rates the city can charge for ambulance transportation and for medical services provided by city emergency service personnel. No one spoke for or against the ordinance.
* Approved the creation of a nine-member Committee on Redistricting at Jones' request. The committee will examine current city council ward boundaries to see if and where changes need to be made.
Councilman Brent Burton, a South Hills republican, will chair the committee. Other Republicans on the committee include Bobby Reishman (South Hills), Mike Stajduahr (West Side) and John Miller (Kanawha City).
Democrats include Harrison, Sam Minardi (South Hills), Shannon Snodgrass (Oakridge Road area), and Mary Jean Davis and Jerry Ware (both at large).
City Council is composed of 27 members, six of whom are elected at-large. There are 14 Democrats, 10 Republicans, one Mountain Party and one Independent.
* Approved a three-year lease agreement between the city and the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau for the CVB to rent part of the second floor of the building at 601 Morris St., next to Appalachian Power Park. The total rental f the duration of the lease is $111,600.
Currently, the CVB is in the Charleston Civic Center, but CVB President and CEO Alisa Bailey said the space isn't adequate.
Bailey said part of the CVB's business is bringing conventions and conferences to the city, and the Morris Street space is much more visitor-friendly than its space at the civic center, the conference room of which is windowless. She said having a more visually appealing space makes a better impression on event organizers.
Jones agreed, and said the city won't hurt financially because it operates the Civic Center and 601 Morris St.
"It's extremely inadequate," Jones said of the CVB's current space.
* Voted to appropriate $540,000 to the Municipal Stabilization Fund in response to reduced collections for the city's business and occupation tax.
City Manager David Molgaard said collections total $130,000 to $140,000 below what the city has budgeted at this point in the year.
"I don't know what to explain it," he said.
The B&O tax can fluctuate from year to year, and is based on self-reported income at businesses in the city.
Jones said income from city hotels is down slightly, as is some income originating at Charleston Town Center.
Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Mur...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him on Twitter @DMCityCounty.