Metro-East News

Second objection filed against Madison County tax referendum petition

Madison County GOP files petition for tax referendum

County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler and petition drive organizer Mike Firsching filed a petition Friday with 10,000 signatures calling for a vote on reducing the county tax levy.
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County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler and petition drive organizer Mike Firsching filed a petition Friday with 10,000 signatures calling for a vote on reducing the county tax levy.

A second objection has been filed against the Madison County tax referendum petition.

Richard Gillespie of Alton has filed an objection to the petition turned in last week by Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, alleging that many of the signatures on the petition are invalid. Another objection was previously filed by retired police chief/city administrator Ben Dickmann of Edwardsville.

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.

Gillespie’s objection states that many of the people who signed did not include an address; are not registered to vote at the address given; signed more than once; and that some of the circulators gave incomplete addresses or other information on their affidavits or did not sign them before a notary, which would render that entire sheet invalid.

Like Dickmann’s objection, it details that two circulators give different addresses on different sheets, and alleges that it renders all those sheets invalid. It also states that the signatures on one circulator’s petitions show “characteristics of common authorship,” and alleges fraud.

Dickmann’s objection is already set for a court hearing on Wednesday to empanel the electoral board, traditionally composed of the county clerk, circuit clerk and state’s attorney. It was not immediately known if Gillespie’s objection would be heard at the same time, or would be subject to a different hearing.

The referendum 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.

The petition drive has been 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.

County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza has sent out notices to the county electoral board, which is made up of the county clerk, circuit clerk and state’s attorney - all Democrats.

Prenzler, a Republican, is currently challenging Democratic County Chairman Alan Dunstan in the November election.

Therefore, Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida, who is also chairman of the Madison County Democratic Party, said he would ask Chief Judge David Hylla to appoint a private citizen, likely a Republican, to the board.

“It is not a Republican or Democratic question, it is a legal question: Are there enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot?” Von Nida said. “We realize that the public must have confidence in the decision of the board; therefore the Democratic officeholders are open to the idea of an appointment of a Republican.”

But then it gets complicated: first one or more members of the electoral board would have to recuse himself or herself. Then there is a line of succession, and the next person in line is the county treasurer.

But that would be Prenzler, who filed the petition. Assuming he then recused himself, it would fall to the county sheriff — who has vocally opposed the petition. Assuming he then recused himself, it falls to Hylla to appoint someone to the board.

When asked if he would recuse himself, Prenzler said he had not decided. “Those are legal issues that I haven’t considered yet. I don’t know the legal issues involved,” he said.

Once a board is chosen, Ming-Mendoza said, the members of the board would then go through the petition line by line for every contested signature and every challenged circulator. “Knowing how volatile this could get, I imagine we will spend a lot of time looking at signatures,” Ming-Mendoza said. “The (first) objection was 1,000 pages long.”

Gibbons said no one is yet sure how it will play out. “There’s a multitude of things that can happen,” he said.

Mike Firsching, a former Congressional candidate who coordinated the petition drive, said he was prepared to go through the process of responding to the objections.

“I do know the group collecting and signing the petitions were doing our best to do so properly,” Firsching said. “I am sure there are errors, but (I) will be surprised if they are at a percentage which will negate the petition.”

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald