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Protest petition the wild card in county projects

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Petitions have played a key role in recent ballot questions -- and could again in 2013.

In 2008, petition drives put two questions before Ellis County voters.

Supporters of a sports complex went before the Hays city commission that summer to ask it vote to include the sales tax question on the November ballot. Commissioners instead suggested the sports complex committee start a petition. Supporters for a new sports complex needed 10 percent of registered voters in Ellis County to sign in order to get a 0.5-percent sales tax question on the ballot.

A sufficient number of signatures were received, and the sports complex question was put on the ballot. Voters gave their approval for what became Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex.

"The committee was fantastic. The work ethic was really good," committee member Jeff Wick told The Hays Daily News after the election in 2008. "The timing of that, the location really helped push us over the top. Everything came together."

Also in 2008, there was a $5 million bond issue for to relocate county office space at Hadley Center, to be paid for through an increase in the mill levy. A protest petition garnered enough signatures to put the bond issue on the November ballot, where it lost.

I'm glad people got to vote on it," then-Ellis County commissioner Perry Henman told the HDN in 2008. "Obviously, Ellis County isn't ready for it.

"I think it's always tough to sell a big project, (especially) on the local government level."

The protest period for a current bond issue of $14.5 million for county projects ends March 5. If sufficient number of signatures were to be gathered, there would be a vote on the bond issue. That vote then would determine whether there would be a vote on a sales tax, which is how the county would repay bonds. A sales tax would become moot if voters opted against issuing bonds in the first place.

To date, any efforts to derail the bond issue through a protest petition have not been made public.