Janesville28.3°

Council to consider when referendums should be required

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GINA R. HEINE
January 12, 2008
— How big should a public works project be before it requires voter approval?

That’s what citizens can comment on during a public hearing before the city council, which will discuss the proposed ordinance and likely vote at the 6:30 p.m. Tuesday meeting.


The proposed ordinance would require a referendum for all public works projects estimated at $5 million or more. The city has no ordinance requiring a referendum for a project of any size.


Passage of such an ordinance would not prohibit a referendum for a project under $5 million. A $2 million project, for example, could go to referendum if the council wanted it to. A referendum would be required, however, for public works projects of $5 million or more.


Public works projects include road, building and park projects and projects such as water tower construction and upgrading wastewater treatment.


Council president Mason Braunschweig co-sponsored the ordinance but said that doesn’t mean he supports it.


“It was a discussion that needed to occur,” he said. “I will support the will of the people.”


Alderman Fred Juergens was the other sponsor, and said he wanted to get the topic out for discussion. He supports the ordinance, he said.


So why set the mark at $5 million?


City Administrator Dan Wietecha said it’s a matter of setting a threshold high enough so as not to tie the city’s hands on standard projects.


But Wietecha said he didn’t know of any project down the road that would be more than $5 million.


Council members could amend the ordinance to change the dollar amount.


“(A proposal) hardly ever is what it is drafted to be,” Braunschweig said.


He has explained to residents who have contacted him that he’s not married to any number.


“The ball has to get rolling somewhere,” he said.


Juergens said he’s not sure if $5 million is the best number.


“That’s a number you put out on the table, and you talk about it and come to a conclusion after you have a discussion of the pros and cons of the number,” he said. “We just wanted it to be high enough so that it would really cause people to think.”


If the number were too low, “you wind up doing government by referendum in relatively small decisions,” he said. “That’s not the way representative democracy is suppose to work.”


What about Lake Leota?


Officials say the ordinance proposal is not tied to any specific project, such as the proposed dredging of Lake Leota.


Cost of that project won’t be known until engineers complete studies later this month. Project estimates will be discussed at the Feb. 12 council meeting.


“There’s nothing in the (proposed) ordinance that says you can’t have a referendum for something under $5 million. The city council has that option,” said Juergens, who supports a referendum for the lake project.


“The city council could still decide to have a referendum on any spending issue if they wanted to.”


IF YOU GO

The Evansville City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would require a referendum for public works projects estimated at $5 million or more. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 31 S. Madison St.



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