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Swisher voters reject creating public water system
A similar measure failed nearly two decades ago
SWISHER — Swisher voters rejected development of a public water system during a special election Tuesday.
The public measure, which needed 50 percent of votes to pass, failed with 401 voters — or 84.2 percent — voting “no.” A total of 75 voters — or 15.8 percent — voted “yes.”
A total of 476 residents voted in the special election for 72.34 percent turnout, according to unofficial results.
The conversation to put this measure on the ballot was in light of anticipated growth, a desire to improve fire response, and concerns about contaminated water. The Jefferson-Monroe Fire Department is the only fire department in Johnson County without a public water system.
The city had a previous special election to develop a municipal water system in February 1999. The measure failed with 72 percent of voters voting “no,” and 28 percent voting “yes.” A total of 395 residents voted, according to Johnson County archives.
Only residents residing within Swisher city limits were eligible to vote in this election. Residents with a Swisher address who live outside of city limits were not part of the vote.
Most Swisher city residents are served by private wells, but the city does have some public water systems. There are seven public water systems and about 95 private wells.
In 2019, there was a renewed interest to explore the possibility of a municipal water system, and a water feasibility committee was formed.
Cedar Rapids-based HR Green was hired to evaluate alternatives for water supply, treatment, storage and distribution, as well as conduct a water system study. The firm explored what infrastructure would be needed to move forward with a public water system if approved by voters.
HR Green hosted public information meetings about the $19.2 million project. Residents raised concerns at these meetings about the project costs, user rates and other uncertainties.
Swisher resident Chad Velvick said Wednesday one of the main reasons he was against the measure was the cost. He said other residents were also worried about the unknown monthly expenses.
Velvick created the Swisher City Water Forum page on Facebook in early February as a way for residents to communicate ahead of the vote and engage with one another about what they’ve heard and their questions. The group had just under 240 members ahead of the special election.
“If the message of the proposal had stayed consistent, it would have been a little bit easier to maybe discuss that part, but it moved a little bit, so people really didn't know what they were going to end up paying,” Velvick said.
Velvick also mentioned another factor residents were uncomfortable with was the amount of time to digest the information. It was about seven weeks from the first city mailer to the special election.
“The cost and the speed was just very worrisome,” Velvick said.
Swisher Mayor Chris Taylor previously told The Gazette that the questions and concerns brought up during the water discussion — such as improving fire response and addressing contaminated water — will still need solutions if the vote fails.
Taylor said on Wednesday the results showed that for some of the issues, like contaminated water, residents would prefer to address them as individuals rather than collectively as a city.
“I think the city will need to look at those problems with that in mind,” Taylor said.
Taylor added the city council will need to look at lessons learned, resident concerns and the research that has been done over the last three years as they discuss next steps.
“One thing that we can do now to help put the city in stronger position if this does come up down the line is to keep a record of what happened this time around,” Taylor said, adding the city didn’t have much information from the 1999 vote.
By keeping an archive of information, Taylor said his hope is that it will be helpful for future city leaders to see what residents were concerned about and the questions that came up. The city will need to wait at least four years before the issue can be put on the ballot again.
“That will enable those future leaders of the city to be better prepared to address some of the questions that are bound to come up every time this comes to a vote,” Taylor said.
“Regardless of the outcome, I absolutely think it was time to once again put it to voters and just see what they wanted to do next,” Taylor added.
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