MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A new development Monday, January 26th in the debate over the streetcar proposed for downtown Milwaukee. The group "Citizens for Responsible Government," or CRG says they are looking into suing the city. That group says if construction on a downtown streetcar begins before the public has an opportunity to vote, they'll sue.
Milwaukee's City Clerk says about 31,000 signatures would be needed to force the issue to a referendum. According to state law, the referendum would have to occur in a special election -- or it would have to wait until the Spring 2016 election.
Citizens for Responsible Government has organized the petition drive against the streetcar that is ongoing. Those taking part in the petition drive hope to gather enough signatures to force the issue to a referendum. They've set a self-imposed deadline of February 8th.
"This petition drive does one thing and one thing only. It lets the voice of the people be heard," Chris Kliesmet with Citizens for Responsible Government said.
Kliesmet tells FOX6 News nearly 17,000 signatures have been collected -- a little more than half of what is needed to force a referendum on rail projects costing more than $20 million.
City Clerk Jim Owczarski says even if the signatures are in before the February 10th Milwaukee Common Council vote -- it would be too late to get the referendum on the April 2015 ballot. According to state statute regarding "direct legislation," if there are six weeks or less before the election, the ordinance or resolution shall be voted on at the next election thereafter.
"If you count back from that election in April, you`re well past that window you just described," Owczarski said.
Owczarski says if the referendum comes after the Common Council vote, it cannot undo the Common Council's action.
"It is prospective, so if there were any extensions to the streetcar or any other rail projects costing more than $20 million, it would affect those. It would have no effect on the streetcar as it is currently envisioned in front of the council on February the 10th," Owczarski said.
That's why the streetcar project's opponents want more time.
"At the end of the day, this whole process is about the voice of the people. Nothing in our petition stops the trolley. It says `let the people speak first` before you take action," Kliesmet said.
Owczarski says a special election for the referendum could cost about $250,000. Kliesmet says that price-tag shouldn't keep the public from having its say on a $123.9 million project.
Again -- those with Citizens for Responsible Government say they're not concerned with the February 10th Common Council vote. Their belief is that if they get the required number of signatures, the project should be placed on hold -- pending the outcome of a referendum.
Last week, the Milwaukee Common Council voted 10-5 in favor of the project. But the Common Council then voted to reconsider the project February 10th.
The proposed $123.9 million streetcar project would provide service within a four-mile loop — connecting downtown Milwaukee to the lakefront and the city’s east side. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says the project will be paid for with grant money, an already approved TIF district and $54 million in federal dollars earmarked specifically for a streetcar project. He says it won’t involve a property tax increase.
If approved and built, the streetcar could eventually be expanded.
If you’re interested in obtaining signature sheets for the petition drive, you can get them at the following locations:
- Sobelman’s Pub & Grill – 1900 W. St. Paul Ave.
- The Packing House Restaurant – 900 E. Layton Ave.
- Sherman Perk Coffee Shop – 4924 W. Roosevelt Dr.
- Wolski’s Tavern – 1836 N. Pulaski St.
- CJ’s Sports Bar – 3279 S. 9th
- Mama’s Italian Cuisine – 7718 W. Burleigh
- McKiernan’s Tavern – 2066 S. 37th
- Ron & Russ’s Flooring and Design – 2648 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
- Sebring Garage – 6005 W. Howard Ave.
- Southside Gardens – 1576 W. Oklahoma Ave. (signatures only – not drop-off)
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