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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- A new committee is hoping to collect thousands of signatures in hopes of letting taxpayers vote on the Confluence Project funding in a binding referendum next year.
The Executive committee is made up of three people who tell us their goal is to make sure taxpayers have a direct voice if they are asked to help pay for the Confluence Project.
A city council member tells us the city is being asked to foot up to $13.5 million dollars on the project, although it is not known how that would be spread out to taxpayers.
Committee members say they need to collect roughly 3,500 signatures to get the question on the ballot next year.
"If you're using my money, I want to be able to have a voice in it," said Janice Wnukowski with the Eau Claire Historic Preservation Foundation.
She joined dozens of others at Thursday's Landmarks Commission meeting all voicing their concerns with losing historic buildings on South Barstow to Confluence Project.
She says people need a voice if they will be asked to help pay for it.
"It would give the taxpayers their right to say whether they want to invest in the Confluence Project or not," she said.
Meanwhile, just down the road at the State Theatre, Cindy Kaiser's position is evident as soon as you walk in the door.
"We would have a new larger facility, it would become the focal point of our downtown bringing in a lot more people," Kaiser said.
She says she would be fine with a vote. Just like the students in her painting class, she hopes people would take the time to learn first.
"I think people need to understand what the issue is, read about, come to a meeting, and understand the information before they do vote," she said.
Two positions - but it is not just that black and white. Sharon Hildebrand is a mix between the two. She says she supports the Confluence Project but wants the historic buildings to stay. She does not believe a binding referendum is necessary.
"I don't think it's a good idea, I don't think we've put other economic development issues that involve taxpayer money on referendum, I don't think this should be singled out for that," she said.
Committee members say if the Confluence Project is put to a vote because it is a binding referendum it would mean the city would not be able to partially fund it if it fails. The city would need to take a new approach. The committee's chair says they need to have all signatures by January.
A group of highly interested citizens have formed a committee, filed for an IRS 501(c)(4) EIN number and established a bank account to raise funds expressly for the purpose of gathering the signatures necessary to place a city-wide, binding referendum on the spring 2014 ballot.
“Whether you are for, or against the Confluence Project in its current form, you should be in favor of this referendum” said Mike Bollinger, one of three individuals on the Executive Committee, a businessman and former School Board Commissioner. “The project requires a substantial commitment of funds over multiple years by the citizenry of Eau Claire. It will also require funding from the State and Eau Claire County. A ‘yes’ vote sends a clear message to those other entities that this is an important project to Eau Claire. A ‘no’ vote also sends a clear message to our city council that the project should take another form. In either case, a binding referendum puts the future of this project squarely in the hands of voters.”
Billed by supporters as the most important decision to impact Eau Claire in 50 years, the Confluence Referendum Committee feels that an informed populace should have the final say over that future direction.
The other members of the Executive Committee include former Councilman, Larry Balow, and local businesswoman, Judy Olson. They will also be at the press conference to be held on the steps of the City Building, Monday October 14th at 12 noon sharp to make the formal announcement, and answer questions by the press.
A letter will also be going to the City Council to formally request a public appearance on the city council agenda.