As Gilbert gears up to begin early voting for the May 19 general election, the community's attention will likely shift to a Town Council race that had been overshadowed by the race for mayor.
At the same time, candidates moving on from the primary election must battle voter fatigue by the time the general election roles around, said Town Councilwoman Joan Krueger.
"It'll be interesting to see how things go forward. You end up a little bit more on your own than you were before," she said. "The last couple of weeks are pretty quiet."
Still, the Maricopa County Recorder's Office mailed 34,571 early ballots to Gilbert residents, a slight increase from the primary, Town Clerk Cathy Templeton said. They should be arriving in voters' mailboxes this weekend.
The March 10 primary was Gilbert's first election since the state launched its permanent early voting list. That program helped boost voter turnout to almost 20 percent, the highest in recent memory. Seventy-seven percent of voters used early ballots.
Krueger led the vote totals in the primary for the two open council seats, followed closely by political newcomer Jenn Daniels. John Sentz and Erin Scroggins were a little further back, but since no one received more than 50 percent of the votes cast, all four made it into the runoff.
Fewer candidate forums were planned during the run-up to the general election even before Councilman Don Skousen announced his withdrawal from the mayor's race. A candidate forum held at a Gilbert Chamber of Commerce luncheon this week was supposed to feature only Skousen and top mayoral vote-getter John Lewis, but the lineup was expanded to include the council candidates. Krueger was on a trip and did not attend, and mayoral write-in contender Glen Spencer was not invited.
The forum was delayed by a medical emergency after the moderator passed out, and it was upstaged by the tax day "TEA Party" held in front of Town Hall, but the conversation that did take place focused on the town's ongoing budget crunch.
Whoever is elected next month won't take office until most of fiscal 2010's decisions have already been made, but officials project that falling sales tax and other revenue could create a $15 million spending deficit over the next several years.
Daniels and Scroggins emphasized budgetary restraint with non-public, safety-related items, including recreational programs. When talking about the town's recent land purchases for future parks, Daniels said, "The analogy I've been using is that now might be the cheapest time to put a pool in your backyard, but that doesn't mean it's the best time to do it if you have to take out a loan or dip into your savings."
Scroggins added that Gilbert should be looking at ways to recoup costs from recreational programs that don't pay for themselves.
"When we're losing hundreds of thousands of dollars operating Mesquite Pool, I think voters in Gilbert will agree with me that these programs need to pay their own way," he said.
Sentz, who currently sits on the town's Planning Commission, has based much of his platform on bringing effective business practices to municipal budgeting. He took credit for spurring the town's recent decision to buy several new police cars from Gilbert's SanTan Ford, rather than a Glendale dealership.
After learning of the town's purchasing plans, he said he got Skousen on the phone. "I called him up and said, 'Don, this is your conscience calling.'"
The local Ford dealership subsequently joined the state "bid list," which allowed Gilbert to buy cars from it as long as it's the low bidder.
"Not only did we save the town money, but that was $6,000 in sales tax money that didn't go to Glendale, but to Gilbert," Sentz said.
Skousen later said Sentz was in fact the "instigator" of that purchase.
The town clerk will accept early ballots for the runoff beginning Monday. The offices are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and also on one Saturday, May 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.