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Columbia Missourian

Low vote tally seen for Bonds

November 2, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Three water, sewer bonds are up for vote in Tuesday’s election.

If you want to avoid clots of fired-up gadflies and long, coiling lines at polling places Tuesday, stop in anytime between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

County Clerk Wendy Noren is predicting fewer residents will turn out to vote than it takes to fill one-sixth of MU’s Memorial Stadium.

The optimistic forecast is about 10,000 voters, she said, which is about 10 percent of the active voters registered in Boone County. Why so low?

It should be clear, officials said: Sewer and water bond issues are just plain boring.

The last time city and county officials asked citizens to pass sewer and water bond issues in 1997, about 11,500 voters turned out. Noren said most of those were lured in by a juicier county road tax issue that was also on

the ballot.

“I’m a little concerned here,” she said. “Sewer and water bonds just don’t seem to bring in a lot of people.”

It’s not like the city and county didn’t try, officials said.

The Boone County Regional Sewer District staff has pitched its $3.8 million sewer bond issue at more than 40 meetings since early September — some with audiences as low as two, Tom Ratermann, district superintendent, said.

City officials put on more than 25 presentations of their own about their $18.5 million sewer bond and $28.3 million water bond proposals. They also advertised in newspapers, did radio spots and mailed out newsletters. But of about a dozen Columbia residents polled Friday, a handful didn’t even know there was a vote coming up Tuesday. Most declined to give their names. Stephen Sample, who lives on Blue Ridge Road, said he never heard anything from city or county officials.

“Not unless it was on one of those junk mail fliers,” he said.

“We did everything short of driving people to the polls,” Columbia Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said.

Noren said she has her fingers crossed for a decent turnout. Her goal is more than 10,000 voters, like in 1997, and not 8,000, like in the late 1980s.

Tuesday’s weather could tip the scales. Forecasters predict it will be gloomy, which means more voters will stay home, Noren said. If it rains, especially at a certain time of day, the 10,000-voter benchmark could be jeopardized.

“Especially with an election like this, turnout tends to be later in the day,” she said.

Not surprisingly, Noren said, more voters turn out for more controversial elections. Sewer and water bonds sometimes foster murmurs of ho-hum controversy, but often, like in 1997, they pass by a landslide.

What furor there is over the ballot this year comes from anti-growth coalitions, who argue the city is using sewer extentions to ready for growth on the city’s fringes. The city has countered, saying the improvements are necessary regardless of whether the city expands.

On Tuesday, the issue will be left up to the voters. The only question is how many will show up.