HUNTERTOWN – Town voters will have a chance this fall to annul their own decision to create a utility board in the spring.
While the effort to use a referendum to immediately undo a previous referendum is rare, Council President Jim Fortman said he hopes it will be successful.
Fortman said he and others will carry the message to voters to eliminate the utility board before it ever officially begins.
We just feel its not necessary anymore, he said.
The move is the latest in a long succession of efforts to exert control over the towns utilities.
Voters in the spring approved a referendum 371-177 to create a new utility service board.
The boards purpose is to oversee water and sewer utilities as well as sanitation services within the corporate limits of Huntertown.
The towns existing utility service board includes the five members of the Town Council. Dave Rudolph, the towns clerk-treasurer, is not on the board.
In the first quarter of 2011, council meetings often turned hostile as council members and Rudolph argued repeatedly about the legality of establishing a utilities board that was made up of all five council members. The council voted 3-2 to create a new utilities manager position on Jan. 18, 2011, with the manager reporting directly to the utility board.
Rudolph argued that it took away the help he needed to do his job and subsequently sued the town.
The new board would have to include one municipal executive as chairman, a professional engineer and could not include any paid or unpaid municipal officer or employee to the board, according to state law, including council members.
The new board is to start Jan. 1, and Fortman said no members have been selected because of the effort to eliminate the board.
Should the referendum to kill the board be successful, Fortman said the utilities manager would report directly to the council.
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, said having competing referendums so close to one another is uncommon, especially in Indiana. State law allows residents to take few things to the ballot directly and requires 2 percent of registered voters from the last secretary of state election to sign a petition. In Huntertown, that requires 24 signatures.
Having such large policy decisions being made and overturned so quickly is one reason opponents dislike referendums, Downs said. He added having the second vote in a general election instead of a primary could make it possible to get a different result because more people are going to be participating in the presidential vote.
The composition of the electorate is going to be very different, he said.
Fortman said he is unsure whether voters will change their minds, but he plans to actively campaign to eliminate the utility board, saying it serves no purpose and is unneeded.