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The Daily Courier, November 4, 2009

Prop. 401 passes: Big projects are in voters' hands
By Cindy Barks

PRESCOTT - By a two-to-one margin, voters in Prescott want a direct say in large-scale city projects.

Overwhelmingly, voters approved the Taxpayer Protection Initiative (Proposition 401) Tuesday, making it law that the city must take projects with a value of $40 million or more to a vote of the public.

For Brad DeVries, the chairman of the committee behind the effort, the voters' 8,233-to-4,183 approval of the initiative was proof that voters wanted to "take back a right to vote on big public debt that's guaranteed by the Arizona Constitution."

He added: "Large projects should have that level of scrutiny by the people who will be paying."

DeVries maintained that Arizona voters long had that right through bond issue elections, but that other types of municipal financing for large projects had served to "erode (the right) over the last decade."

While the initiative will apply to any large city project, much of the debate has focused on the $170 million Big Chino Water Ranch project.

DeVries said he expects the Big Chino project to go on the ballot sometime soon, but he was unsure when that would happen.

"It seems obvious that it would be on the ballot, but the timing is something I don't know," DeVries said, adding that the next step would involve working with the city attorney's office to draft the rules that would stem from the initiative.

Throughout the campaign, opponents argued that the initiative was not so much a move to protect the taxpayers as it was a bid to control growth by stopping the Big Chino water pipeline.

Even so, those against the proposition expressed little surprise Tuesday night after the general election results revealed the overwhelming win for Proposition 401.

"Most people thought it would pass," said David Maurer, chief executive officer of the Prescott Chamber of Commerce, which took a stand against the initiative.

While Maurer foresees the ballot issue on the Big Chino project as "the next big battle coming up," he pointed out that such a measure "would force a lot of education" about the project.

And he believes the end result would be approval for the project that aims to import thousands of acre-feet of water per year from the Paulden area to the tri-city area.

"I think the pipeline would pass," Maurer said.

DeVries does not completely disagree. "If the city makes a forthright and honest case and answers all of the questions that are out there, I think they would be in a much better position to win a vote," he said. "But if they keep ducking and weaving and dodging the obvious questions, they will have a much harder time at the ballot."

Mayor-elect Marlin Kuykendall noted Tuesday night that while he did not support the initiative, "I fully respect the right of the people, and we'll live with it."

He added: "I fully expected it would pass."

By an even larger margin - 8,809-to-3,329 - Prescott voters approved Proposition 400, the Home Rule Option, which allows the city to tailor its budget to the community's needs, rather than using a state formula.

Copyright 2009 Prescott Newspapers, Inc.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton