Independence's City Council voted this week to indefinitely postpone an ordinance that would have put a smart meter vote on the ballot for Aug. 6.
It doesn't necessarily mean the council is ignoring the citizens' successful ballot initiative petition for a smart meter vote, though.
Another ordinance that received its first reading – one that accepts the petition, prohibits smart meter installation for city's electric and water utilities and voids the smart meter contract the council approved last month – is scheduled for a possible vote June 3. The council had no discussion on that ordinance Monday.
Council Member Tom Van Camp, who supported the petition and consistently voted against smart meters, had introduced the now-dead ordinance in the event the citizen petition did not gain enough signatures for a ballot measure. Citizens did gain enough, though, with some room to spare.
“The council needs to decide to accept the petition, which would prohibit smart meters by ordinance and it would not be reconsidered for a year,” Mayor Eileen Weir said, “or we need to adopt another ordinance to put it on a future ballot, and that ordinance hasn't been introduced yet.”
Confusing, perhaps. But it's a matter of timing more than anything, Weir said.
After the citizen petition had been submitted to the city clerk on May 10, it went to the Jackson County Board of Elections.
“The signatures weren't certified in time to have two readings and put in on the ballot,” Weir said. “That's not to say it couldn't be on a future ballot. If we reject the petition, then we have to have an ordinance to put it on the ballot. If we pass this other one, then it would not go on the ballot.”
When Council Member Curt Dougherty brought back the resolution for a smart meter contract last month and a 4-3 council majority approved it – a week after 5-2 majorities voted against two contracts – it took many people off guard but also represented the fourth time in 18 months the council had voted on smart meters. Some upset citizens soon started circulating a petition to put the matter on the ballot.
“The people have spoken on this rather loudly; it's not just something anybody can brush away,” Van Camp said. “The important thing is to hear these things, but we have to move on, also, and the use tax is very important.”
The sub-plot is with no smart meters on the Aug. 6 ballot, the use tax will be alone. The council approved 6-1 to make a second request to voters on the online sales tax – with funds initially earmarked for animal shelter operations and up to 30 police officers. Additional funds, if it reaches that point, would go into the general fund. Existing citizen oversight committees would monitor the earmarked funds.
“There's a lot of moving parts, a lot of deadlines and different opportunities,” Weir said.
Van Camp said that while voters soundly defeated the use tax last year, it's still vital for city operations.
“That opposition is still going to be there, and we have to put it in the right language, that people know it's going to be used for these things. We hire people to run things, and you've got to give them the money to run things.
“For years we enjoyed the sales tax (revenue). Now let's take a wash, not even an addition. It's filling out what we lost on the other end.”