Petition deal fails


LEWISTON – A compromise that would have let residents challenge city ordinances by passing petitions door-to-door failed Tuesday night.

The deal would have exempted city spending, budgets and personnel from citizen challenge, and Councilor Stavros Mendros said it wasn’t a fair trade-off.

“Anything the city does arguably effects the budget,” Mendros said. Councilors could use that argument to exempt every decision they make from citizen challenge.

He and Councilors Ron Jean and Paul Samson ultimately voted against the compromise. Councilors Normand Rousseau and Lillian O’Brien and Council President Renee Bernier voted for it. With Councilor Mark Paradis out sick for Tuesday’s meeting, the vote ended in a 3-3 tie, a losing vote according to council rules.

The measure was designed to settle controversy surrounding a rain fee petition available in the city clerk’s office. Ten residents started the petition in November to halt a utility fee proposal adopted in June. Councilors cut the city budget by $1.6 million last summer, and hoped to make up the difference with revenue from the rain fee.

The petition would force a November 2007 vote on the storm-water utility. If 1,000 voters sign the petition by close of business tomorrow, it will force the city to suspend the new fees until the vote. That would leave a $1.8 million gap in the budget.

So far, signers have gathered fewer than 300 signatures, far short of the 1,000 they need to put the rain tax before voters.

According to city ordinances, citizens have to come to City Hall to sign the petition, and backers argued that was unfair.

Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau said Tuesday the compromise would have let residents challenge city votes, but would have protected the city.