Archive for Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Clerk certifies signatures on road petition

Tonganoxie group wants election on city funding for County Road 1 improvements

October 11, 2006

The second time was the charm.

About five weeks ago, a group of Tonganoxie residents lodged an unsuccessful petition drive against spending city funds on improvements to County Road 1.

Those petitions didn't contain enough valid signatures.

But the same group wasn't daunted by that failure.

They tried again, filing another petition last week.

And on Tuesday, Leavenworth County Clerk Linda Scheer said the group was successful.

Now, the ball's in the city's court.

The petition calls on the city to adopt an ordinance or schedule an election on this statement:

"Be it ordained that the governing body of the city of Tonganoxie to not contribute financially to the proposed Leavenworth County Road No. 1 turnpike interchange project."

City attorney Mike Kelly said the city council will take the issue up at its Oct. 23 meeting.

Under law, once the county clerk certifies the petition, the city has 20 days to act on the petition -- by adopting it as an ordinance or by calling for a special election on the issue. Any special election must be set within 90 days, Kelly said.

But the city also could challenge the petition in court.

"I suppose there are different legal proceedings that could take place, but at this point in time, they haven't considered any of them," Kelly said of the city council.

At issue is whether the city should contribute to a project -- estimated to cost $14 million -- to upgrade six miles of County Road 1 between Tonganoxie and Kansas Highway 32. Turnpike officials say the road improvements are required before they will build the new interchange in Leavenworth County. The interchange would be the county's first on an interstate highway.

The turnpike authority and Leavenworth County have committed funds to the project. In addition, it's possible federal funds will be funneled to the project, although no final decision will be made until after the Nov. 7 general election.

Amount not final
The city has not pinpointed how much money it might contribute to the road upgrade, but earlier this year city council members voted to consider up to $2.8 million.

That possible expenditure is what drove Phyllis Shilling and others to carry petitions -- twice.

"We feel, when it comes to this amount of money, that city residents should be allowed to vote whether they continue with it," Shilling said. "That's the whole purpose of it: To allow us to vote."

Shilling said she's aware the city might launch a legal challenge to the petition. But, she said, that would send a bad message.

"I think if they declare it not a legal petition, I would think it would make the citizens wonder whether they consider their input or not," Shilling said.

The magic number

The petition required 262 valid signatures of registered voters living in Tonganoxie. The county clerk said she wasn't certain how many valid signatures the petition actually contained.

"We quit, once we reached the 262," the county clerk said.

That number is equal to 40 percent of the number of voters in the last city election, which was in April 2005.

Scheer estimated a special election would cost the city up to $3,550.

Petition-carriers had hoped to piggyback a vote on the road spending with a question on a sales tax increase to fund a new Tonganoxie swimming pool.

But at its meeting Monday night, the city council decided to wait until the April 3 city and school election to ask voters to approve the swimming pool tax question.

The city is considering asking voters to approve a 3/4-cent sales tax for 10 years to finance construction of a new pool to replace the city's 80-year-old structure.

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