A large-enough minority of Dubuque County voters rejected a $40 million bond issue for conservation initiatives and outdoor recreation projects last week, leaving the county looking for other funding sources.
The referendum, placed on the ballot by the Dubuque County Conservation Board and Board of Supervisors, needed 60% of the vote in the Nov. 2 election to proceed. It would have provided $14 million for park improvements and expansion, $14 million for water quality, land protection and habitat management, $8 million for trail improvements, development and expansion, and $4 million for uses like agriculture-related water quality, ATV trails and kayak launches — all projects highlighted by the county’s two-year long-term planning process.
On Nov. 2, 9,150 people voted in favor of the initiative — 59.2% of the vote and 2,848 more people than those who voted against. But, given the 60% threshold, the 6,302 who voted against the measure were enough to derail it.
Dubuque County Land and Water Legacy PAC Chair Art Roche issued a statement Nov. 3 saying the effort was still a partial victory.
“We hoped that today’s vote would show that the citizens of Dubuque County believe that the preservation of our lands and waters, the improvement and expansion of our parks and trails, and the protection of our natural habitats are important enough for everyone to invest in,” he said. “The majority of voters do believe that, but not a supermajority.”
Roche wrote that more outreach might have made a difference.
“There’s always the lingering feeling that if we had had one more meeting, obtained one more endorsement, contacted just a few more voters, the outcome might have been different,” he said. “But... Many more Dubuque County residents are aware of the fabulous parks we have in Dubuque County, and many more are aware of conservation issues, recreation opportunities, and all the outdoor wonders that comprise our beautiful county.”
According to County Auditor Kevin Dragotto, 125 more voters would have been needed to win the referendum.
Dubuque County Conservation Director Brian Preston said on Nov. 3 that finding an alternative funding route will take some effort, especially since the $40 million was meant to be leveraged for far more state and federal funding.
“I know there’s a lot of money being spent at the federal level, but very little of that is available for outdoor recreation and natural resources,” he said. “There are not too many options outside of local support.”
Preston said one of the best options would be for the State Legislature to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, the creation of which was approved by voters in a statewide referendum in 2010. The fund was created but never funded.
“There is still some optimism that (funding for) that would pass, but it’s been 11 years since voters approved that and we still haven’t seen any progress,” he said.
Preston was disappointed by the referendum’s failure but encouraged by the overwhelming majority support.
“It shows that most of the public is behind what we’re doing,” he said.