Oronoco residents denied vote on $15.2 million water plan


A headline on Page 1B Wednesday contained some incorrect information. Oronoco residents are not able to vote on any possible version of a city infrastructure project.

---------------------------------------------------------- By Joshua Lynch

ORONOCO -- Residents of Oronoco were told Tuesday they will not be allowed to vote on plans for citywide water and sewer service.


The announcement, made by City Attorney Tom Canan, came at the same city council meeting where a petition signed by 334 of the city's 883 residents was presented in an attempt to force a public vote on the plan.

"The city is not legally required to hold a vote," Canan said. He also said that an advisory election to measure public opinion "is not legal."

Oronoco resident Sara Ottman, who led the petition drive and presented her results Tuesday, said the announcement did not render the petition worthless.

"Even if legally we don't have a leg to stand on, then we go back to the original intent -- which is to inform the council of how people feel about this," she said. "We want to remind them who they work for."

Studies commissioned by the city estimate the water and sewer system installation, along with other city improvements, would cost $15.2 million. City officials have said they hope to secure up to $5.4 million in grants to help offset costs.

An estimated 363 homes will be affected by the project. If approved, the plan could add the services as early as fall 2003.

Petition coordinators initially believed that by gathering signatures from at least 20 percent of the city's registered voters, they could force a public vote on the plan.

Canan said such tactics can be used on some issues, but not on plans regarding municipal water and sewer systems. He said public input would have to come in other forms, such as surveys and public hearings.


City council member Bruce VanSickle, a critic of the proposal who signed the petition, disregarded Canan's interpretation of state law and said residents should be allowed to vote on the plans.

VanSickle said voters should decide the fate of a plan which could cost each taxpayer about $200 a month for the next 20 years.

Council member Dick Nelson disputed that cost Tuesday. He said VanSickle was using preliminary numbers.

"You can't say that," Nelson said to VanSickle. "I don't know, you don't know, nobody in this room knows what this is going to cost."

Mayor Joy Bertsinger told Ottman and others who spoke during the 15 minutes allotted for public comment that the city council will continue to consider all options.

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