McMinnville officials will not be seeking voter opinion on two projects that could result in up to $11 million in spending.
During Tuesday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, measures that would have placed two referendums on the November ballot – renovating McMinnville Civic Center at $5 million and renovating the Blue Building at $6 million – were rejected.
The Civic Center referendum failed 5-2. Mayor Jimmy Haley, Vice Mayor Ben Newman, and Aldermen Ryle Chastain, Steve Harvey and Everett Brock voted against seeking voter input in November. Aldermen Mike Neal and Jimmy Bonner voted in favor of it.
The decision was made after a lengthy discussion that started with Neal trying to stop rumors that he called for a referendum in an attempt to stop the project.
“There are rumors going around I brought this up in an effort to kill the funding for this project,” said Neal. “I would like to set the record straight. That is not true. I believe in the health and wellness of our citizens. It is a substantial amount of money. It’s $5 million and I think we should ask the blessing of our citizens before we spend those types of funds.”
The project also includes an expansion of the facility’s Wellness Center. Neal says that effort is competition for private businesses and he’s against that part of the project.
“If this was merely about upkeep and taking care of what we have with maintenance, I’m totally in favor of those things. I do have some problem with stepping on the feet of the private sector. I’m of the opinion government should limit itself to providing only those services which are needed and that the private sector cannot or will not provide. This is one of those things where we have people who make a living in these businesses and it puts our government in competition against them.”
Newman objected to the referendum because $5 million is an estimate and the actual cost could be less.
“The problem I have with passing this resolution is that it says $5 million,” said Newman. “If this goes to voters, there could be some voters who would be OK with $4 million, but not OK with $5 million. Then, we are left trying to figure out what they meant when they voted no. Did they vote against it because they didn’t want to go up to $5 million, but maybe they would have been OK with going up to $3 million or $4 million? A referendum doesn’t answer the question you are wanting to pose and that’s how much are you wanting to spend?”
Referendums must be very specific. In 2012, officials attempted to include a referendum on the ballot that simply asked voters if they wanted the Blue Building renovated, but found that isn’t allowed.
Officials were elected to make these decisions, says Newman.
“We were all elected to this position by the people in our area to make these difficult decisions, to take the taxpayers money and put it where our collective minds think it is best to put it. If we put all of these things up for referendum, and I understand the arguments for and against referendums, but it really does take away our decisions and puts them all in the hands of taxpayers. They elected us to do that on their behalf. I think we can make this decision.”
Harvey and Chastain agreed with Newman.
Said Harvey, “Voters elected us to make these kind of decisions. If that $5 million gets turned down, then what do we do? Do we have another one for $3 million? Then, have another referendum for $2 million? If we build a police department in a few years that costs $2 million, are we going to have a referendum for that? Where do you stop?”
The Blue Building referendum vote failed 6-1.
Bonner, who requested the item be placed on the agenda, lobbied in favor of demolishing the Blue Building.
“To spend $6 million on a building when you can tear it down and build a brand new police department there makes no sense,” said Bonner.
Officials have not discussed spending $6 million on the building since 2012.
Board members expressed discontent for Bonner’s actions.
“This is the same thing that was voted on before,” said Harvey. “You sound like you want to tear it down. It seems like there should be a resolution for a referendum to tear it down. I really don’t understand why we are even considering this.”
Bonner added, “If they don’t want to spend $6 million on it, the best thing to do is tear it down.”
“This resolution has nothing to do with tearing it down,” said Brock. “First of all, nobody has even suggested that we were going to spend $6 million on it. If you want to tear it down, why doesn’t the resolution say that instead of spending $6 million on it? I don’t understand.”
Bonner added, “If it comes to a motion to tear it down, I would make that motion.”
“That’s not what we’re voting on,” said Brock. “This resolution is to not spend money on something we aren’t spending money on.”
Bonner added, “Let voters tell us no again.”
Haley, Newman, Chastain, Harvey, Brock and Neal voted against seeking voter input on a $6 million Blue Building renovation. Bonner voted in favor.