OBERLIN — The Board of Elections on Thursday verified that there are enough valid signatures on two petitions that, if they make it to the November ballot and are approved, would undo the city’s recently established Oberlin Community Choice Fund.
Paul Adams, director of the Board of Elections, said the petitions will be returned to the city, which is tasked with reviewing them for any problems. That must be completed by Aug. 9, the deadline for issues to appear on the general election. A final review by the Board of Elections is conducted after that, too.
Finance Director Sal Talarico said in an email Thursday that the city has not determined when it would get the petitions back to the county board.
A similar citizen-led ballot initiative was rejected last year by the board because of a technicality in the way the signatures were submitted.
The city has fought for years over what to do with the proceeds from the city’s sales of renewable energy credits.
Earlier this year, Council came up with the Oberlin Community Choice fund as a solution that was supposed to satisfy people on both sides of the debate: those who believe the city should keep the money and those who believe the money should be returned to the ratepayers.
After many months of discussion, the Council compromised and decided that they would return 85 percent of the proceeds to customers and
15 percent would stay with the Sustainable Reserve Fund.
The Sustainable Reserve Fund has a narrow scope, meaning money in the fund can only be used for certain things, so the idea with creating the Choice Fund was to be able to use the proceeds from renewable energy credits for anything under the umbrella of the Climate Action Plan.
The caveat in that while residents would only receive about $100 per year from the credits, a facility like Oberlin College could get $400,000 per year based on its electricity usage. Then, there’s also the challenge of getting people to donate the money back to the city.
Some organizations, like the retirement community Kendal at Oberlin, already have pledged to donate the money back to the city but officials at Oberlin College have still not decided what it would do with the returns.
However, if the resident-led petitions are approved, all progress on setting up the Choice Fund would halt. The city had planned to start distributing information on the Choice Fund, but the petitions have thrown a snag in that plan.
If ultimately verified by the county, the referendum petition puts the ordinance establishing the Choice Fund back to voters. The initiative petitions introduces an ordinance to amend the Sustainable Reserve Fund, which would effectively void the 85/15 split.