24,000 signatures — Will it be enough?

By Kurt Prenzler | Nov 25, 2013


The impossible became possible in Madison County when “we the people” spoke up on the right to vote on possible tax increases.

On Nov. 18, petitions with almost 24,000 signatures were filed with the Madison County Clerk’s office. Those who signed the petitions want the issue of whether the county should issue $18.8 million in bonds to remodel the jail be placed on the March 18, 2014 ballot.

Collecting the signatures on petitions was a herculean effort by all involved.

If given a choice as to whether or not government borrows money, automatically raising property taxes, most felt it should be up to the public, since it is their tax dollars used to pay off the debt.

The issue was first brought to light on Aug. 28. In September, my Op-Ed was published in most local newspapers, strongly recommending that the question be put on the ballot, for the voters to decide.

Confusion reigned at the Sept. 18 County Board meeting, which ended with the issue tabled. The resolution re-appeared on Oct. 16. The board voted, 20 – 7,  for the back-door referendum.

This legal loophole in Illinois law allowed the County Board the ability to borrow the money for the jail remodel without voter approval. Because this process was used, volunteers were required to collect 17,722 signatures, which is 10 percent of the county’s registered voters.

No one thought it could be done. My personal pledge was to collect 1,000 signatures, and I ended up with 1,300.

We started collecting signatures, and quickly discovered that almost everyone was signing. Most people just assumed that such questions had to be put to the voters, and were angry that such a massive effort was required, just to put the question on the ballot.

Rod Spears, the leader of the grass roots group “Bonds on Ballot,” used a wheelbarrow to haul the petitions to the County Clerk’s office.

Just when you think it’s over, now a Democrat activist has challenged the petitions. There will be time for this person to review the documents and then a hearing will be held — when exactly is yet to be determined.

Kurt Prenzler is Madison County Treasurer.

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