EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- A group that's trying to let voters decide the fate of the Confluence Project says it has turned in more than enough signatures to get a referendum on the spring ballot.
On Thursday, the Citizens Referendum Committee turned more than 4,900 signatures in to the City Clerk. It's more than the 3,619 the group says is required. The committee wants a binding referendum on the spring ballot that would ask voters if they want to have a say in using taxpayer money for the Confluence Project and other "major city building projects." City Clerk Donna Austad says she's in the process of going through and verifying the petitions in an effort to get them certified ahead of the first Eau Claire City Council meeting in January. At that point, Austad says the council can either approve the committee's proposal, or send it to the voters to decide.
The petition calls for an ordinance that would require that "certain building projects constructed with funds of the city or a city entity shall be submitted to referendum prior to construction." The petition goes on to say that before crews start building any project, including a building that's planned for dramatic, musical, or athletic performances, and that taxpayers fund part or all of, the city council would have to put a binding referendum to the voters first. The project would also have to cost $1,000,000 or more, and could include the dismantling of a historic or landmark building.
The group started collecting signatures last month. Back then, City Attorney Steve Nick told us that he has concerns about the proposal's potential impact beyond the Confluence Project. Local codes and state laws currently say landmark and historic can be razed after certain criteria are met, but it doesn't hinge on a referendum. Nick said current laws try to strike a balance between the rights of the landowner and the public's interest in potentially maintaining historic property. He said the proposal purports to supersede state laws, and that can only be done in certain areas of local concern, while calling preserving historic properties an area of statewide concern. Nick also said he was concerned that the language on the petition doesn't refer to altering state statute or city code.
Our message to Ben Richgruber from the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council was not immediately returned.
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (CITIZENS REFERENDUM COMMITTEE NEWS RELEASE) -- At 1 p.m. today, the Citizens Referendum Committee (CRC) Executive team formally turned in petitions with 4,935 signatures to the City Clerk. This number exceeds the requirement of 3,619 and represents more than 20% of the voting public in the last general election. More importantly, this count represents a larger number than any of the votes received by winning city council members in the spring 2013 election. Further, this astonishing result was accomplished in only 30 of the 60 days allotted by law.
When asked to comment, CRC President Mike Bollinger said. “30 short days ago, during two busy holidays and frigid conditions, an army of 110 volunteers took to the streets on their mission, to LET THE PEOPLE VOTE. I stand in tribute to the dedication of those volunteers, and to each and every signatory for this petition.”
Judy Olson, Treasurer of the CRC said, “It was a team effort by a very dedicated group. This set of signatures represents a true cross-section of the populace of the City Of Eau Claire. Now the people of Eau Claire will have an opportunity to voice their opinion and require the City Council to submit to the voters a binding referendum.”
The group of volunteers worked tirelessly to meet the City's timeline to place the Confluence Referendum on the spring ballot. Once the signatures are validated by the City Clerk, the petition will go in front of the City Council to formally place a referendum on the ballot.
“There was a uniform sentiment of a need for a vote among the signers we spoke with” Bollinger said, “I encourage the city council to reach out directly to those they represent as we did.”
Under the referendum, Eau Claire citizens will decide if they wish to have a voice in the use of taxpayer-based funds for the proposed Confluence and other major city building projects. The proposed Confluence Project is projected to cost $80.9 million and consists of a college dormitory, classrooms and three theaters. The first theater planned is a 1200 seat auditorium to replace the 1100 seat State Theater. The second is a 450 seat venue to replace UW-Eau Claire’s 400 seat Kjer Theater. The third, is a 250 seat black box theater, which will compete with the two existing black box theaters (Eau Claire Children's Theater and the Little Grand) in the downtown vicinity. $44.8 million of the Confluence Project is to be funded through City, County, and State tax dollars and taxpayer backed bonds. If the project is constructed, city property taxes and hotel room taxes will offset operating losses from the three theaters.