By Perry Schaible
WEST CHESTER TWP. - The organizers of a petition drive to put construction of a $33 million community and recreation center to a vote say the effort is off to a strong start.
Volunteers hit the streets two days after a July 13 decision by township trustees to approve construction of a $33 million community and recreation center. By Tuesday of this week, 1,000 signatures had been collected.
Petitioners have until Aug. 12 to submit a referendum petition to the Board of Elections to get the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot. Organizers need to collect 1,545 valid signatures.
Duane Hunt, an employee of Fitworks, a leader of the referendum drive, says the petition is not for or against the community center, but is an effort to let the citizens decide.
"We just want to put it on the ballot. I mean, if you're going to spend $33 million of taxpayers' money to build something, the people should have a say in it," Hunt said. "And, if everybody wants to do it, fine."
Fitworks has partnered with Let Us Vote West Chester - or LUV West Chester - an organization whose goal is to get the issue on the ballot.
Longtime resident and petitioner Bruce Jones said response has been favorable.
"It ranges from people who can't believe that we would risk burdening taxpayers any further to people who want a community center but want a community consensus," he said.
At least one group has organized in favor of the community center. Residents for the center sent out more than 16,000 postcards recently asking citizens not to sign any petitions.
"If you support this project, do not sign any petitions," it reads. "The petition is only to be signed by those who oppose the creation of this invaluable community asset."
Not true, say members of LUV West Chester - who maintain they simply want an opportunity to vote.
But Nora Rubinoff, a 14-year West Chester resident and head of Residents for the Center, said the drive is misleading.
"I'm feeling frustrated right now, because I'm not sure if the opposition is really being fair as far as how it's going about harvesting signatures," she said.
Trustee president Catherine Stoker agreed.
"All of us on the board of trustees support everybody's right to a referendum, but they're asking for a petition on the theory that it's the taxpayers' money," she said, adding that no residential property taxes will be used to build the facility. Instead, the center will be paid for with money from a tax-increment finance district.
E-mail LUV West Chester at firstname.lastname@example.org. Residents for the Center has a Web site at www.residentsforthecenter.com.
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