Tags: Bloomfield-Genoa, GC Village Hall
July 23, 2013 | 10:14 AMGENOA CITY — The attorney representing citizens who circulated a petition demanding direct legislation plans to meet with a member of the District Attorney's Office regarding the village board's recent action to make that effort useless.
On July 11, the village board approved an ordinance that requires a referendum election for projects costing more than $2 million. The petition demanded that projects that cost more than $500,000 be put to referendum.
Attorney Steven Wassel of Wassel, Harvey & Schuk LLP, Delavan, is representing the group that circulated the petition. On July 18, he said that he wouldn't be willing to discuss his plans publicly because of the legal strategy involved.
"I advised the village attorney that I will be meeting with the District Attorney's Office on the matter," Wassel said. "I plan on doing that quickly."
On July 11, Village Attorney Linda Gray said a petition requiring referendum for capital improvement projects isn't legal if it conflicts with an existing ordinance.
The petition didn't conflict with an existing ordinance until, on July 11, the board approved an ordinance requiring referendums for projects that cost more than $2 million. The petition was turned over to the village earlier that afternoon.
Gray didn't return a phone call seeking comment on Wassel's plan to meet with the District Attorney's Office.
A direct legislation petition needs 15 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election to sign it. The village clerk has 15 days to certify the petition. Because the petition wasn't yet certified, it wasn't valid.
Village President reacts
Village President Bill Antti said the village acted with the advice of its attorney, and he doesn't believe that anything illegal or improper occurred during the meeting.
"We went through with the advice of our counsel," Antti said. "I don't think there was anything illegal about it. I think what they were trying to do would have been terrible for the village."
Residents circulated the petition because of concerns about property taxes in the village, and because the village created subcommittee to study the village hall.
The subcommittee is looking at either repairing the existing building, constructing a new village hall or modifying an existing building to become the new village hall. Neither the village board or the subcommittee has made any official recommendation.
Antti said the way the petition was worded, the village would need to receive referendum approval before obtaining quotes from engineers and other professionals. This, he said, would make putting projects to referendum difficult because the village typically has to spend money on engineers to obtain quotes for projects.
He said the village board would have to guess at costs on the ballot, and hope that the project doesn't exceed estimates.
"It would have been terrible," Antti said. "We couldn't fix any roads if they cost over $500,000 or even if they came close we couldn't take a chance or we would be breaking an ordinance."
The petition was circulated by Heidi Crow. Crow is the daughter of former Village President Chuck Schuren, who also assisted in circulating the petition.
Antti said Schuren was the village president when the Tax Increment District was created, which Antti said is major reason the village's taxes are as high as they are now.
"It is kind of ironic that he is worried about taxes now, but not then," Antti said. "I think he probably had good intentions when he did that, it just didn't work out as well as he thought."
The TID is scheduled to close this year, which is expected to lower taxes in the village. The timing of the village hall project has been aligned with the TID closure.
If changes to the village hall are approved at the same time as the TID closure, overall village taxes should still decrease.
"I don't like paying high taxes any more than anyone else," Antti said.