Petitioners hope to stop Chestnut project; Filing deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 5 by David Lias The Vermillion City Council learned from City Manager Jeff Pederson Tuesday that petitions are being circulated in the city in an attempt to stop the Chestnut Street improvement project.
The city council responded by directing City Attorney Martin Weeks, should the petitions be filed, to research laws and court decisions and attempt to determine whether the project can be referred to a public vote.
�We have reason to believe there may be petitions circulating to stop the Chestnut Street project,� Pederson told the aldermen. �The filing deadline for that would be Friday. I think it would be well for you to know if in fact that petition carries the weight of law, in other words, is it a valid petition likened to be petitioning a legislative act of the council.�
Pederson added that if it is believed that the action that apparently is attempting to be referred is an administrative action, �then our position as a city, would be, I�m assuming, that we would not follow through with a referendum.
�If we believe in fact that it was a legislative action that was being referred, then obviously we would be duty-bound to follow through (with an election),� he added. �I was wondering at what point should we know that? It seems to me that sooner than later would be best. I think that everybody would like to know, if a petition comes in, if it is a valid one or not, or if the issue is something that can be petitioned.�
Pederson asked the council if it would like Weeks to render an opinion on this matter in advance or following the possible filing of a petition later in the week.
�This is a lot like conflict of interest, where there is a whole lot of gray, and not a lot of black and not a lot of white,� Alderman Roger Kozak said to Weeks, �in that we didn�t really get that resolved until we had your opinion, and that was challenged in the court, and finally the court had a response.
�It might behoove us to again have that formal opinion that you�ve stated already to us regarding the status of when a petition is appropriate or not appropriate,� he added. �If we had that and a petition were to come forward, at least we would be in the position that any party that didn�t agree with that could take further court action, so it might save time.�
Kozak made a motion that Weeks provide an opinion on the referendum status of the Chestnut Street project.
�I would like to see the petition, of course,� Weeks said. �As soon as I get an opportunity to look at the petition, I�ll realize that I�m requested to render an opinion on that and I�ll do that.�
The Vermillion City Council agreed Dec. 4 to seek bids for the street improvement project that may cost as much as $1.3 million.
Concerns were voiced at that time by property owners and by Alderman Barbara Yelverton on issues such as the project�s cost, traffic numbers, safety, lighting and the project�s possible impact on the environment and nearby�property owners.
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The council eventually decided to approve a motion to proceed with the Chestnut Street improvement project, and in its bid documents for the work, include the street�s lighting as a bid alternate.
The portion of street under scrutiny is approximately one-half mile in length, and provides a link between Dakota and University streets.
Pederson noted in a phone conversation with the Plain Talk Wednesday afternoon that the estimated $1.3 million price tag for the project will be funded by $620,000 of the city�s second penny sales tax revenue and $691,000 of Federal Aid To Urban (FAU) funds.
�The state is allowing us to draw down on our federal allocation ahead of time,� he said. �That means there is more FAU money and less second penny sales tax (from the city) going into the project.�
It also means the second penny sales tax revenue not spent on Chestnut Street can be used elsewhere in the city, Pederson said.
�Other projects being earmarked for second penny sales tax funds can then be done sooner,� Pederson said.
The lion�s share of the cost of the Chestnut Street project � approximately $900,000 � will be used to construct a retaining wall south of the street between the railroad tracks. The wall is required by the railroad before the city can fill in the slope by the tracks to widen the street to 28 feet.
If a concrete slab is placed on the existing grade without filling in by the tracks, the slab would only be 15 feet wide which wouldn�t provide for two lanes of traffic.
The project�s design also calls for cutting into the bluff on the street�s north side. The maximum cut is 11 feet at the back of the proposed curb at a point approximately 200 feet east of Dakota Street.