Home Coronavirus Pandemic How coronavirus has impacted the race for Athens County Treasurer

How coronavirus has impacted the race for Athens County Treasurer

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Athens County Board of Elections. File Photo by Morgan McCarthy.

Between answering phone calls and knocking on the door of his bike shop, Peter Kotses — Athens city councilmember and owner of Athens Bicycle — discussed the race for Athens County treasurer.

Kotses, a Democrat, is challenging Democrat incumbent Ric Wasserman for Athens County treasurer. The race was to be decided in the primary election scheduled for March 17. However, the evening before, Amy Acton, head of the Ohio Department of Health, ordered voting polls to close because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

The election was moved to April 28, and all votes will be cast absentee. 

Kotses said in a phone interview he has not focused his time on campaigning for the postponed election. Kotses’ campaign ads can still be found on social media, but he suspended his planned door-to-door campaigning a week before the election because of coronavirus-related concerns. 

Wasserman, like Kotses, suspended door-to-door campaigning.

“People are not interested in answering the door and seeing a politician really at any particular time, especially not during a pandemic,” Wasserman said during a video call interview. “So we’re not doing that.”

The bulk of Wasserman’s campaign is now through mail, emails, phone calls and digital advertisements. 

Before the original election date, Wasserman and Kotses were scheduled to participate in a candidate’s forum March 12 in Amesville hosted by the League of Women Voters. The event was canceled. 

Wasserman said that the forum held at Athens Public Library on March 10 was under-attended. 

“We had seven or eight people for the treasurer’s forum. Of course, county treasurer doesn’t really bring them out like mayor does,” Wasserman said with a laugh. “But, we probably would have had a good 25-30 people had it been a normal time.”

As of April 15, Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens Board of Elections, said that 7,312 absentee ballots have been requested and 3,992 ballots have been received, which includes individuals who participated in early voting. 

Quivey said in a phone interview that the situation is so unique, she cannot anticipate the number of ballots that will be returned.

Quivey said she believes the turnout for the Democratic primary could be impacted by Sen. Bernie Sanders dropping out of the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. 

Kotses isn’t optimistic that the race for Athens County treasurer itself will draw many voters. 

“The treasurer’s race is not the most exciting race in the whole wide world. I would say there’s a lot of people who won’t show up just for that,” Kotses said. 

Wasserman described the position of Athens County treasurer as “essentially the county’s bank.” The treasurer is responsible for tax collection and works on the county’s Land Bank, a nonprofit government organization that converses or revitalizes vacant, dilapidated and tax-delinquent properties, according to a previous report by The New Political

Kotses said he wonders how tax collection will be impacted by COVID-19, as many individuals have lost income because of the pandemic. 

“Everyone’s taking a hit from this in one fashion or another, so you think of how many (tax) delinquencies are we going to see because people don’t have the funds to pay their tax bills,” Kotses said. 

Wasserman said his duties as Athens County treasurer have not changed due to coronavirus; he is still able to work in the office handling the county’s money and visit abandoned houses for the Athens County Land Bank. 

“I went out last week looking through several abandoned houses, just looking through them, because that’s a pretty social-distancing thing. Nobody else wants to go through abandoned houses with me,” Wasserman said. “I wear a mask when I go into those, even if there’s not a pandemic.”

The Athens County Treasurer’s Office closed to the public March 18. For employees, working hours have been reduced to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so the building can be sanitized twice a day. Wasserman said that starting Monday, working hours will be extended until 4 p.m. to give employees more time to work.

“It’s lonely up here. We don’t see the public anymore, and we love our tax payers,” he said. “Not seeing the public is very difficult, especially for an extrovert like me.”

Citizens can mail in forms and information or utilize a drop box on the ground floor of the building. 

Wasserman said county meetings have moved to online platforms, which has been an adjustment.

As for property tax collection, Wasserman said that many Athens County citizens pay for the entire year at the first collection date, the first Monday in March. He does not know how the second collection date, the first Monday in August, will be impacted by the coronavirus. 

Initially, Kotses closed Athens Bicycle under recommendation from the Athens City County Health Department, however it was reopened as it is considered an essential business. Athens Bicycle has reduced hours of 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week.

“We don’t see a ton of people, and we’re kinda here for those emergency situations,” Kotses said. 

Customers can either call the shop or knock on the door. Kotses said he’s able to help most customers outside and normally does not let them in the building. 

Kotses has been running the shop when open with limited help from staff for their safety. 

“I like to think we’re being pretty safe. Most of my guys were not comfortable coming back in so I was like, ‘let’s keep the circle a little bit smaller,’” Kotses said. 

Information on absentee voting can be found at the Athens County Board of Elections website or at Ohio Secretary State Frank LaRose’s website.

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