They will also have to determine whether an initiative prohibiting sale is in direct violation of an Charter provision stating, "The power of initiative and referendum shall not extend to the budget or capital program ... ."
Anticipating a sale this year, County Council only funded Gracedale for six months. Any initiative that prevents that sale will necessarily require a budget amendment and will force the County to dip into its rainy day fund. So it's pretty clear that, in this instance, the power of an initiative would very much extend to the budget or capital program.
Tuesday was the cutoff day for petitions. At the close of business, 507 petitions, totaling 23,391 raw signatures, were on file. Elections officials are currently in the process of performing the tedious job of verifying the names submitted.
In my own review, I've noticed signatures from Allentown, Coplay, Whitehall, Catasaqua, Phillipsburg, Saylorsburg, and the Lehigh County portion of Bethlehem. I saw one page that was obviously written by just one person. But I've also seen petitions signed by people like Mario Andretti, Lisa Boscola, Larry Holmes, Sal Panto and T.J. McHale. Former State Rep. Rich Grucela actually circulated a petition himself, getting 27 signatures.
If the Elections Commission determines that the petition is invalid, it will be retrned to the original petitioners, along with a statement of findings of fact. But if the threshold is met and the Commission is untroubled by the language in the Home Rule Charter, the petition will be certified to County Council. At that point, Council can adopt the Ordinance or return it to the Elections Commission for placement on the ballot.
As The Express Times observed yesterday, what happens to Gracedale is a $30 million question, "and the county has to stick to its game plan."