Residents on Tuesday sent a resounding message to local leaders: Leave our water alone in O’Fallon and no home rule in Shiloh!
O’Fallon residents voted on two referendums that failed, both dealing with whether the city should sell or lease its water department and wastewater treatment plant. Both were advisory referendums, meaning city leaders are not bound by their outcome.
The overwhelming results regarding Shiloh’s proposition for the municipality to adopt home rule came as a disappointment to village officials, but filled one resident, Patsy Tarvin, with confidence that her village may not have increased control over an array of issues including a crime free housing program implementation.
“The board did nothing to really educate the community on what this was, so if our Mayor and board thought this would be good for us, then they did a poor job of explaining why,” Tarvin said. “Hopefully they will do a better job next time if they think this will be beneficial to our village.”
An informational forum was held Thursday, April 2, at the Shiloh Senior Citizen’s Hall. Mayor Jim Vernier said he was not only upset with the referendum not passing, but was disappointed in himself as a leader for not putting more effort into educating the community on what home rule means for Shiloh all around.
“At the forum last week I had 24 opposed to it in the beginning, but I’m pretty sure 23 voted for it once they learned what our goal was,” Vernier said. “It’s unfortunate that a (realty) organization that came into Shiloh and New Baden, both, with thousands of dollars and two postcard mailings claiming that the village’s secret intent was raising taxes—I didn’t have the money to fight that campaign, and answer those allegations—it would’ve cost myself and trustees a lot of money out-of-pocket because we can’t use village tax dollars to promote a referendum issue.”
Vernier went on to discuss other factors that played into the results of the election, but adhered to his main point, “...the residents that voted in favor of it were the ones that were informed.”
According to Village Administrator, John Marquart, the village will more than likely bring back the referendum in two years at the next consolidated election in 2017.
“We will make that decision down the road, if the board decides to bring back the referendum in two years, then we have a lot of time to prepare the community for that,” Marquart said.
The home rule vote was 795 against and 296 in favor.
Both incumbent trustees Kurt Burrelsman and Colleen Powers were re-elected and one new face, Greg O’Neil, will be on the board to take 28-year veteran Trustee, and former Treasurer, Dan Weidenbenner’s spot.
Regarding the potential lease vote in O’Fallon, the referendum boiled down to two questions:
• From the city: Shall the City of O’Fallon consider only a lease and not a sale of the municipal-owned water and wastewater systems and related assets? The vote was 1,162 in favor and 3,456 against.
• From O’Fallon Citizens for Action: Shall the City of O’Fallon sell or lease the municipal-owned water and wastewater systems and related assets? Residents voted yes, 786, to no, 3,832.
Former O’Fallon Mayor Kristi Vetri, chairperson of O’Fallon Citizens for Action, a grass roots group that opposed the potential lease, was pleased with the results.
“On behalf of O’Fallon Citizens for Action I want to thank the residents, taxpayers and voters of O’Fallon for exercising their Constitutional right going to the polls in numbers twice as large as in most other areas and the 1,653 registered voters that put their names on petitions to get the question on the ballot,” Vetri said. “I also want to thank our public works employees, especially the 19 water and sewer employees. They help the street department with snow removal and help the fire department as volunteer firemen. They had the courage to become whistle blowers and to waken the sleepy giant within us all.
“It was a privilege to help unite a diverse group of O’Fallon residents to sound a call for action and to work together. O’Fallon Citizens for Action was initially comprised of six groups, all with different agendas, but all with the same goal…. To keep our water system public and accountable. Personally, I want to thank the hard work and dedication of our steering committee who had countless meetings and brought grassroots activism back to O’Fallon.”
Vetri thanked Citizens for Action members.
“The members included: Lindsey Rushing, who convinced me to get involved and helped administer our Facebook page; Kie Zelms, our Treasurer and website administrator; Ron Zelms, our researcher and fact finder (one of the best with which I’ve ever had the privilege to work); Mike Cook, our ‘Get Out the Vote’ committee chair; Michael Berens and Larry Gallagher, who offered helpful insight and spiritual support; Galyn Rushing, our historian and cheerleader; and Cheryl Sommer, who mobilized our volunteers to gather signatures, knock on doors, and make phone calls.”
“This effort proves that we can all work together in a nonpartisan, nondiscriminatory manner when an issue of public policy touches us all. This issue brought Republicans, Democrats and Independents, all races, all nationalities, all genders, all ages, all religions, all socio-economic populations together. This issue also restored my belief that you don’t need a lot of money to win an election and that grassroots, nonpartisan activism is alive and well in O’Fallon.”
Proponents of the water questions, who included Mayor Gary Graham, said selling the assets would bring in $50 million that could be used to build roads, parks and other infrastructure improvements. Opponents warned that selling the water system could bring higher water and sewer rates and loss of local control.
Graham, other officials and a representative from voteyespleaseofallon—a grass roots group in favor of exploring a potential lease—could not be reached for comment by Progress deadline.
Voter turnout in O’Fallon’s 22 precincts had 18,986 voters with 4,676 ballots cast, whereas Shiloh’s 17 precincts had 7,983 voters with 1,110 ballots cast.
Below are other pertinent election outcomes from Tuesday.