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Highland rejects citizen initiatives; they'll be on ballot

Council cites vague language, fiscal challenges, no data

HIGHLAND — The Highland City Council rejected three citizen initiatives Tuesday night, citing vague language, fiscal challenges and a lack of information about the suggested measures.

The initiatives proposed to create a water board to manage the town's water infrastructure, change the way city-owned open space is landscaped and maintained, and limit the types of fences that can be built along open-space property lines.

All three initiatives will still be on the ballot in November, but since the City Council rejected them, it can campaign against them.

State law requires all properly submitted initiatives to appear on the ballot in the next regular election. Prior to the election, each voter in Highland will receive a voter information packet with a 500-word argument from each side for each initiative.

Packets will also include a fiscal impact statement, prepared by city employees, that explains the cost of implementing each initiative if it is passed.

City Council members said they had no major objections to the fence initiative, saying it was more a matter of personal preference and was best left in the hands of the voters.

But when it came to the other initiatives, council members and City Attorney David Church were much more vocal.

Church said a publicly elected board with responsibility over the city's water system would conflict with state statutes that require all matters of budget to be decided by the city council. He also questioned the need for a second elected body when it is chosen by the same electorate.

"I don't see why a future elected body would be any more or any less trustworthy than any future elected city council," he said.

Church said the Open Space Initiative, which, if passed, would require the city to install grass on all the land set aside as open space within Highland, was not clearly written and would need further clarification before it could be implemented if passed.

But despite his objections on legal issues, Church said the council could not deny the public's right to vote on them.

"The city's obligation is to put initiatives on the ballot," he said. Any conflicts they pose with state law would have to be addressed through amendments when and if they are passed.

City Administrator Barry Edwards told the council at the last council meeting that installing grass would cost a projected $140,000. If the city were to collect that money from property taxes, Edwards said, it would have to raise that tax by 20 percent.

State law allows citizens to put an initiative before a city government by obtaining signatures from 15 percent of the total number of people who voted in the last election for governor, as long as the total number of votes was between 2,500 and 10,000. The signature must be from a registered voter who lives within the city and it must be legible.

In Highland, 5,023 people voted in last year's governor election, meaning each initiative required 753 signatures to be placed before the City Council. The Water Board Initiative had 901 recorded signatures, the Open Space Initiative had 851 and the Local Fence Initiative had 847.