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Bellevue board spars over advisory referendum

By Heather Graves

BELLEVUE – Village residents will soon have a say in what direction they would like to see the village go with its facilities master plan after board members voted 3-2 at its Wednesday, Aug. 28, meeting to direct staff to start the process of holding an advisory referendum for the November 2020 election.

“I think it’s necessary to get the public’s viewpoint on what they’d like us to do first,” said board member Tom Katers. “If we continue on the path we are on, nothing is going to happen, we’ll never get anywhere. I want to know exactly what the public feels, have outside opinions.”

The topic was originally discussed at the July 24 meeting, when it appeared on the agenda as a possible advisory referendum on the April 7, 2020 ballot.

Though all board members agreed that a April 2020 referendum would be too soon, there were differing opinions on placing it on the ballot for November 2020.

The agenda item died at the July 24 meeting following a variety of failed motions with 2-2 votes.

Katers was not present at that meeting.

The item was brought back to the board table last week after a request by Trustees Adam Gauthier and Katers.

“I think we have come to a point that we know things that need to be done and have known for several years and we haven’t done them,” Gauthier said.

Not everyone on the board saw the need for a referendum.

“The citizens of Bellevue have elected me, I know what their expectations are for me on this board,” said Board President Steve Soukup. “I believe I can make that decision for them, and that is the reason I will be voting against it. We can make this decision, we’ve made really good inroads in the last couple of years and talking about purchasing land, haven’t heard that since 2008.”

Because the board has approved placing the referendum on the November 2020 ballot, village staff will now take the necessary steps needed to make it happen.

Those include developing a referendum planning process, schedule and estimated costs.

It’s likely a committee will be established to direct the process, wording of the question and public outreach and education.

Village Administrator Diane Wessel said for a successful referendum it is necessary to conduct an educational campaign.

Success can be measured in the sense there are engaged voters who fully understand the anticipated outcome of “no” and “yes” votes.

The village’s last referendum was a binding road assessment referendum in 2010 where residents were asked whether street construction projects should be partially funded by the general tax levy.

That referendum failed with more than 60-percent of residents voting “no.”

“The last referendum we had, it just turned out to be a circus,” said Trustee Dave Kaster. “The language, I had so many people call me and say ‘What the heck is this?’ And I know it has to be approved by the state, but I think it turned out to be something much different than what we started with. I just ask that this not be like that – cut and dry and plain, so everyone knows what’s going on.”

Soukup said he believes the board can make these decisions without a referendum.

“If an advisory referendum is what the board wishes, we’ll go that direction,” Soukup said. “But there is a lot of work to do to be ready even for November 2020, I just want you all to be prepared for that.”

Katers said he knows work is ahead for the board and staff, but sees the referendum as a good process to get the topic out for residents.

“That in there lies the advisory meaning – it makes perfect sense,” Katers said. “What is our first priority, our highest priority?”

Kaster and Soukup voted against the motion.

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