Possible referendum looms over future of St. Pete Lens - FOX 13 News

Possible referendum looms over future of St. Pete Lens

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

By all indications, St. Petersburg voters will decide the fate of the Lens on August 27th. That is the city's primary election, and that is where petitioners to "Stop The Lens" want to see their question.

"It'll save the city a quarter of a million dollars," petitioner Bud Risser told FOX 13 News, referring to the cost of a special election by mail.

A special election by mail might also cross paths with mail in ballots for the primary.

"It really is $250,000 and to have multiple ballots with two different elections on people's table, no, it's very confusing, we're not going to confuse the voters," Mayor Bill Foster confirmed.

The problem is the calendar: The city charter requires a referendum within 90 days of the certification of petition signatures. Risser claimed two weeks ago more than enough signatures had been collected.

But he is not inclined to turn them in before May 30th.

"We didn't come all this way to stumble and fall at the finish line" he said. "We're going to wait until we have a date certain so we can piggyback on the election that's already been scheduled."

Mayor Foster would like them turned in sooner.

"You say you have them, I'd like to get them turned in, and we'll start the verification process" Foster said. "That removes any uncertainty."

The looming petitions already impacted a request for more money for the Lens project on Thursday's city council agenda. The council deferred voting on that $1.54 million request, after several said they need more time to digest a new 450-page long technical document just released last Friday.

However, the probable referendum is also on their minds.

" I can't, because I think that it is the wrong thing to do -- vote to spend money in the face of an election," councilman Charlie Gerdes said.

Even Jeff Danner, one of the project's most ardent supporters, admitted a referendum is probable.

"The best part of a referendum is an educated community that knows what they are being asked to do," Danner told his colleagues. He and other Lens supporters think a lot of misinformation haunts the project.

If a referendum is in St. Petersburg's future, there will be a fast, furious campaign to sell the project to voters. Two new polls, one public and one private, suggest the "Stop The Lens" question win by a two-to-one margin.

Risser commissioned the private poll but declined to release it yet. However, he said "Our polls indicate that the citizens are three-to-one against borrowing the money to build the Lens. Three-to-one."

His poll also suggests more than 90 percent of those questioned are familiar with the project.

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