The former city administrator for Edwardsville has filed an objection to the Madison County tax referendum petition filed last week by Treasurer Kurt Prenzler.
Ben Dickmann retired in 2014 after 15 years as city administrator. Prior to that, he served as a police officer and eventually chief of police for 30 years.
Last week, Prenzler turned in a petition with 10,000 signatures calling for a referendum to lower the county’s maximum tax rate by 5 cents. Proponents have said the county brings in more money than it needs to run public services; opponents have said the cut would cause drastic cuts to those services, including law enforcement.
Dickmann said he was already concerned about the referendum when he began reading about it.
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“(It) sounded like a bad idea,” he said. He said he was told that petition circulators were making “exaggerated claims” about the savings homeowners would receive and false statements about the effect of the referendum.
The petition would lower the maximum tax rate from 0.25 to 0.20. County leaders estimated the savings for a homeowner with a $100,000 home would be less than $6 per year, while it would require them to lay off up to 47 employees. Prenzler said he estimated the savings would be closer to $16 a year.
But once the petition was turned in, Dickmann said, there were legitimate questions about the accuracy and validity of the signatures.
“Election laws exist to protect the public from fraud and dishonesty and to preserve the integrity of our democratic process,” Dickmann said. “These laws must apply to everyone equally, including the supporters of this anti-public safety petition. That is why I am challenging these petitions.”
He said after he and some friends reviewed the petition, as many as 3,000 signatures may be invalid — or 30 percent of those in the petition.
“By essentially stuffing the ballot box and submitting thousands of invalid signatures, the supporters of this petition drive have seemingly attempted to fraudulently mislead the public into thinking that their anti-law enforcement efforts had the support of the public and should be submitted to a vote,” Dickmann said. “Clearly this level of support as claimed is not the case, and I feel we can now prove it.”
The petition drive was opposed by Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and Sheriff John Lakin, both of whom publicly stated it would require layoffs in their offices and put public safety at risk.
In Dickmann’s objection, he states that some of the signatures include people who are not registered voters at their stated addresses; do not match the signatures on their voter registration cards; whose addresses are not in Madison County; did not include their address; or have signed multiple times. There are also petition sheets where the circulator did not sign the affidavit, which renders the entire petition sheet invalid; are signed by a circulator who does not reside at the address given; gave an incomplete address or otherwise did not properly complete the affidavit before a notary public.
Prenzler said it was a “grassroots gathering” using more than 120 circulators to gather signatures.
“Are there going to be mistakes? Of course,” Prenzler said. “That’s why when you gather petition signatures, you get more than you need. In this case, we got about 2,000 more than we needed.”
Prenzler said it is his “expectation” that the petition will hold up to a review.