By Larry Phillips and
• Leader & Times
Liberal’s registered voters will have a chance to go to the polls on May 10 to approve or reject a proposal to build a recreation center. The election will be an “advisory” vote (with no legal binding), and the city commission, with some maneuvering and another resolution approved by a majority of the board, could go ahead with the construction of the rec center even with a majority of the voters saying “No.”
However, four of the current five commissioners approved the ballot language that voters will see on May 10. That language is as follows:
Shall the following be adopted?
Are you in favor of the construction of a 100,000-square-foot community recreation center, with the costs of financing, constructing, furnishing, operating and maintaining of the same to be paid for with the “streets, drainage and other capital improvements,” portion of the City of Liberal one-cent sales tax? The estimated cost to construct and furnish the community recreation center will be $6,700,000. The estimated annual operational and maintenance costs of $525,000 will be offset by membership revenue from the community recreation center.
An important part of the ballot language to the casual observer is “… the costs of financing, constructing, furnishing, operating and maintaining of the same to be paid for with the ‘streets, drainage and other capital improvements,’ portion of the City of Liberal one-cent sales tax,” which many opponents of the project feel could be altered after the fact.
Since that language was approved by the former city commission prior to the April 5 election, a look at the new commission involves only one new face – Janet Willimon.
Incumbent commissioners Larry Koochel and Bob Carlile are on record as not only approving the ballot language but promising to uphold the advisory vote – whether yes or no.
Carlile was asked to confirm that earlier today.
“Yes, that is correct,” Carlile said.
Koochel also reaffirmed that commitment.
“Oh, you bet. You have to listen to the voters,” he said. “I will support what the voters say.”
Willimon was asked the same question directly during the last city commission candidate forum.
“I believe in the process – we are taking it to a vote. As a city commissioner, if the vote is ‘yes,’ we will work on it – if it is ‘no,’ it stops there,” she responded publicly.
Regardless of promises, a majority of the commission could vote to go ahead with the project – or change the current financing agreement, but there would be consequences, according to Koochel.
“The commission would never do that,” Koochel said. “No. You have to listen to the voters.”
“Oh, I think it would be a political death sentence,” he said.
According to the Seward County Elections Office, there are several key dates concerning the May 10 advisory vote:
o Advance ballots by mail go out Wednesday, April 20.
o If citizens are not registered to vote, registration is now open, and voter registration deadline is 5 p.m. Monday, April 25.
o Advance voting in person at the Seward County Clerk's Office begins Monday, May 2.
o The last day to request Advance Ballots by mail is Friday, May 6.
o Advance voting in person ends at noon Monday, May 9.
o Notice is further given that the polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. The designated voting locations are as follows:
Seward County Activity Center
Ward 1- Precinct 1, 2 and 3
Ward 6 – Precinct 1 and 2