SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – After being narrowly rejected by the City Council, a proposed declaration of support for American troops could be headed to a city-wide referendum.

A group of South Portland residents has begun collecting signatures to have the issue placed on the ballot.

Organizer Ralph Kilgore said the loosely knit group includes veterans, families of U.S. troops and concerned residents.

If 850 signatures, corresponding to 5 percent of the city’s registered voters, are collected, the measure would be placed on the ballot in June or, more likely, November, city officials said.

“It is not connected to the war. It is connected to the troops,” Kilgore said.

The council passes proclamations honoring scout troops, school clubs and sports teams, and Kilgore said there is no reason for the council to stop short when it comes to troops.

The council resolution called for the support of American troops, but steered cleared of the words like Iraq or weighing in on U.S. foreign policy. The council voted it down by a 4-3 vote. Some members felt local government should not get involved in an issue that is so divisive and personal in nature.

The ordinance proposed by the group would support American troops and require the mayor to read the ordinance each Memorial Day. It also requires a copy be sent to all servicemen and women from South Portland who are serving in the Iraq war, the war on terrorism or both.

Councilor Christopher Bowring, who originally proposed the resolution, said that he has not been involved in efforts to get a ballot question, but he supports the group.

Mayor Ralph Baxter Sr., who opposed the resolution, said he would not work against the group.

AP-ES-04-16-03 0928EDT

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