Opponents Submit Petition to Stop Public Works Move

UPDATED: 5/1   9:25am

A group of West U residents opposed to the city’s long-range Master Plan for Municipal Facilities on Thursday submitted petitions signed by 946 residents, in an effort to block the city from issuing $3 million in debt to finance a part of the plan.

West U City Council candidate Brennan Reilly submitted the petition to City Secretary Thelma Lenz at 9 a.m. The opponents needed 511 signatures, or 5 percent of registered voters, to stop the City Council from selling $3 million in certificates of obligation, which is on the agenda of the council’s Monday night agenda.

But West U Mayor Bob Fry said the city council can vote to approve the $3 million in city debt, “contingent upon certification” of the signatures on the petition.

The city’s long-range Plan for Municipal Facilities has been a controversial issue in West U since mid-October, 2014. The city council unanimously approved the plan to create a so-called Super Block of Municipal Facilities, on the properties located between University, Auden, College and Amherst. The plan includes a proposal for the city to purchase four lots owned by West U residents, as well as two lots on Amherst owned by the West U Baptist Church. The church is planning to build a new  7,000-square foot Youth Center.

The city and the church are involved in real estate negotiations that involve the “swap” of church-owned land on Amherst for the city-owned Public Works maintenance facilities located at 3826 Milton. The $3 million is needed to pay for the costs of moving the Public Works maintenance facility out of central West U, to city-owned property on Dincans.

“It was incredibly easy to get signatures,” Reilly said. “Well over 90 percent of the people I asked agreed to sign.”

Fry said Thursday that the city will proceed with its real estate negotiations with West University Baptist Church.

“We are going to do the deal with the church, and we are going to move the maintenance facility,” Fry said. “We will pursue other financial options.”

Reilly said that he and 27 other West U residents circulated the petition throughout the community — at Little League baseball games, community events like concerts at Colonial Park, candidate forums, and by going door-to-door.

The city’s long-range Plan for Municipal Facilities has been so controversial that a four-person slate of candidates opposed to the plan is seeking election to the city council, in the May 9 election.

The slate includes Reilly, former Mayors Bob Kelly and Burt Ballanfant, as well as Mardi Turner. Another independent group is made up of Bruce Beneke, Sonny Brandtner, former city councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Steven Segal and Phil Snyder.

The West U Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved the church’s request for a specific use permit for the Milton property, where the church plans to build a new 7,000-square foot Youth Center.

In order to pay for the cost of moving the Public Works maintenance facility, and related expenses, the city council recently advertised the $3 million in certificates of obligation.

Certificates of obligation are a streamlined method of municipal finance that do not require voter approval. State law, however, allows for residents of a city to petition for a public vote.

Fry said that if the signatures on the petition are verified by Monday night, “then we won’t vote” on issuing the $3 million in certificates of obligation.