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EDITORIAL: Time for city to step forward

The Hudson City Council has a big decision to make -- to rezone or not rezone the St. Croix Meadows dog track property for a potential new school.

We can see both sides of the argument: The school wants the property and has the backing of the voters who approved a referendum; the city's plan commission made it clear last week that it is reluctant to take the property (upwards of 130-acres; a third of the developable commercial property in the city) off the tax rolls.

What we keep falling back to, however, is the will of the voter. The school district discussed with the city the possibility of rezoning the property before the April 3 referendum, asking for a conditional rezoning permit. At the time, the district was essentially told, "let's see how the referendum comes out, then we'll deal with it."

In retrospect, it appears that the city expected the referendum to fail and not have to deal with the issue. If the city had legitimate reservations, those concerns should have been disclosed before the citizens voted. However, none of that happened.

The voters are the innocent victims in all this. They overwhelmingly voted to have the school district purchase the track with the intention of using the site for a future school. When voters went to the polls, they didn't expect there would be roadblocks placed in front of the land acquisition. As any reasonable person would assume, when a referendum passes, the intended action will move forward.

Whether the school district is correct, or the plan commission is correct, we think there is a certain amount of danger in allowing a seven-member commission, or a seven-member council, to have the power to overturn the decision of voters. Elected officials are walking on thin ice when they somehow feel they are smarter than the voting public.

There is a similar example of this going on in St. Croix County. This newspaper has long argued that the county-owned, taxpayer supported, nursing home in New Richmond should be sold or closed. Contrary to our view, county voters have twice overwhelmingly supported referendums to keep the home open, and pay the taxes necessary to keep it open. Yet, a group of board members continues to push the efforts to close the facility! There's something wrong with this picture. We may still believe that it is not in the county's best interest to give tax support for a nursing home, but we have to respect the wishes of the voting public!

Similarly, there's something wrong with the picture of the school referendum. The voters have spoken -- loud and clear!

If we want to throw a bone into the controversy, the city could possibly protect its interest to some degree by setting a time line. For example, rezone the property on the contingency that a school structure be approved by voters within five or 10 years. If voters fail to support such a structure, that land could be sold to the city at a predetermined fair rate.

Regardless of how the council vote goes Monday night, there are going to be some unhappy people. The will of the people, however, should trump every other card played at the table.