Jefferson County voters reject use of LOST funds for pool/gym
By DIANE VANCE
Golden Triangle News Service
FAIRFIELD — Tuesday’s vote in Jefferson County’s unincorporated areas to financially contribute to a new outdoor pool and gym in Fairfield was defeated by a margin of 26 votes, according to unofficial results from the auditor’s office.
In a very low turnout, 9 percent, or 396 ballots were cast from a possible 4,323 active voters in the county. The final tally was 211 no and 185 yes votes.
“We had a big no vote from the east side of the county,” said Lee Dimmitt, chairman of the board of supervisors.
Walnut, Lockridge and Round Prairie townships had 81 votes against and 12 votes for the supervisors’ proposal to divert 16 percent of 80 percent of the county’s annual local option sales tax (LOST) revenue from property tax relief to the construction of a new pool and gym.
Pool and gym committee member Dan Breen had explained earlier the affect of a county yes vote would cost $14 per $100,000 valuation to residential property owners. The measure asked for this amount throughout a period of 10 years or until $1 million in LOST funds had been contributed to the project, whichever came first.
“I can only speculate about the Lockridge area,” said Dimmitt. “Those eastern townships are closer to the pool in Mt. Pleasant than in Fairfield. Voters could have thought, ‘why pay for a pool I won’t use.’ And it was also about losing some of the property tax relief, I would think. But I haven’t talked with any residents yet.”
Breen said it’s obvious someone or a group mounted opposition to the proposal around the Lockridge area.
“Regardless of how it happened, it’s very disappointing,” said Breen. “We knew it would be difficult holding an election Aug. 6. The state only allows certain types of elections on certain dates.
“It’s really too bad we couldn’t get more people to the polls. I’ve talked with a lot of people in the county who support this project. Maybe too many people took it for granted it would pass,” said Breen.
Dimmitt said the board of supervisors accomplished what it intended.
“We let county residents have a say with a vote,” he said. “It was a low turnout; about 4,000 people stayed home from the polls. But we have to go by the end results.
“This doesn’t preclude local municipalities such as Packwood or Batavia having their own votes,” said Dimmitt.
The unofficial results will be canvassed by the board of supervisors to become official.
The Jefferson County Auditor’s Office provided these vote totals today:
• Blackhawk-Polk townships — 9 yes; 16 no; total 25.
• Buchanan Township —31 yes; 27 no; total 58.
• Center-Cedar townships — 65 yes; 32 no; total 97.
• Des Moines-Liberty townships — 8 yes; 29 no; total 37.
• Lockridge-Round Prairie-Walnut townships — 12 yes; 81 no; total 93.
• Locust Grove Township — 6 yes; 4 no; total 10.
• Penn Township — 16 yes; 15 no; total 31.
• Absentee — 38 yes; 7 no; total 45.
“I know this is disappointing because the committee wants to apply for grants and county participation was an important support,” said Dimmitt. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow being only 26 votes apart.”
Breen agreed the election results are a bitter disappointment.
“The committee will have a meeting as soon as we can to plan the next step,” said Breen. “I don’t know this morning how we’ll proceed.
“I’m very disappointed in the absentee vote; only 45 people used absentee ballots and I thought that was a bad sign,” said Breen.
Dimmitt said history was proved wrong in this instance.
“History says the election goes the way of the absentee ballot,” he said. “Absentee votes were overwhelmingly yes.”
Dimmitt said he couldn’t speak for the other two supervisors, but he isn’t sure if the board would pursue county support any further.
“I personally would feel uncomfortable doing any step that was different than what voters directed,” said Dimmitt.
A few months ago, financial advisor Jeffrey Heil, vice president of Northland Securities in Haverhill, had presented the supervisors with various options to finance county support of the pool and gym project, including some options that would not require a vote from residents.
“What was the point of the vote — if citizens said no — why would we go back and do it anyway,” said Dimmitt. “I’d feel very uncomfortable at this point to do that.”
He said he had no doubt the pool and gym committee would return to the supervisors and ask about options.
“Someone is going to have to make a strong argument to persuade me to go opposite this vote,” said Dimmitt. “The [pool and gym] committee will have to rethink its strategy.”
The committee has worked for more than two years to plan, propose and fundraise for the combined constructions with a $10 million budget.
Last month, Breen said $4 million in private contributions had been raised and Fairfield residents approved the city contributing $3 million to the project.
If Tuesday’s vote had supported the county’s $1 million contribution, only $2 million would have been left to raise; now it remains at $3 million.
“I have no doubt in my heart the community needs this,” said Breen. “This setback will not stop the project.”