Council seeks clarity on initiative (June 30, 2016)

Cites confusion within community as reason for requesting information

APPLE VALLEY — The Town Council voted Tuesday for the preparation of a report that will analyze the impact of a ballot initiative on the town’s ability to provide public services.

Councilman Larry Cusack acknowledged that inclusion of the informally titled Right to Vote on Debt Act on the November ballot is all but inevitable, but the Council was unanimous in its belief that a report would help clear up what was described as confusion within the community related to the initiative.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Nassif said the initiative is not necessarily clear because proponents have characterized it as only affecting the town’s purchase of a private entity — namely the potential future purchase of Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley’s water system — which Nassif said was not the case.

As I understand it, Nassif said, this would be any purchase of the town. Any financing that we do — even if it doesn’t entail a tax measure — that we would have to get an approval (from voters) of the purchase.

To put an initiative like that to the voters every time the town wanted to finance projects, according to Nassif, would take a lot of time and increase expenses related to those projects.

As such, Cusack said the preparation of the report — rather than adopting the measure outright as an ordinance or submitting it directly to voters in November, both of which were options available Tuesday — was the most prudent approach.

Councilman Curt Emick agreed.

I’ve had numerous people come up to me and ask me questions, and they did not understand (the initiative), Emick said. They literally didn’t understand what the petition was … They were very confused, so I think this will be a great opportunity to make sure that the education of that happens.

The Right to Vote on Debt Act was started by Apple Valley residents Chuck and Pat Hanson in response to the town’s eminent domain action against Liberty to acquire the company’s water system through eminent domain.

If passed by voters in November, the initiative would amend the Apple Valley municipal code to add a requirement that voters approve by a majority vote any public debt over $10 million that provides funds through revenue bonds for the acquisition of an enterprise.

The town offered to pay $50.3 million for the water system last year, but that offer was declined and any future selling price — should eminent domain prove successful — would be decided in court.

It’s expected that bonds would be used to pay for the system; however, Assistant Town Manager Marc Puckett said the town will finalize a financing plan, which could also include grants, only after a court ruling.

Liberty financially backed the initiative, and prior to Tuesday’s vote Pat Hanson said the fact that she and her husband aren’t Liberty customers is immaterial.

… We speak as residents of the town and not as customers of the water company in question, Hanson said. The town will eventually use eminent domain as the final answer to this takeover of a private industry. It’s my understanding that only customers of Liberty Utilities will be charged for any bond monies. This doesn’t preclude that non-users have been charged on this issue through taxes already collected by the town and used.

Hanson added that she and her husband are happy with the water being under private control and would like the Council to consider that a great number of residents agree with us.

That point, too, was called into question, however, as Cusack pointed out.

Only about 12 percent of the town’s voting population signed the petition, Cusack said, and signature gatherers were out there for a long time.

But despite the low percentage, the initiative only required, by law, 10 percent of Apple Valley’s voting population in order to be certified, and the 3,873 verified signatures collected surpassed that requirement by more than 700.

Town staff is expected to present an impartial and informative report on the initiative’s impact at the July 26 Council meeting, according to Town Attorney Thomas Rice.

Once the report has been presented, the Council still must choose between adopti ng the initiative outright or putting it to voters in November.

Both Nassif and Mayor Barb Stanton, however, spoke to the possibility of an alternative measure similar to the Hansons’ initiative, the key difference being that the alternative measure would exclude the potential future purchase of Liberty’s water system from a vote.

That alternative measure was agendized after the vote to be discussed at a later date.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press