Virginia Beach City Council decides not to vote on light rail referendum

WAVY News 10

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Tuesday night at Virginia Beach City Council, Councilman Bob Dyer withdrew his motion for council to endorse the city treasurer’s light rail referendum.

There has been recent discussion about council proposing its own light rail referendum for the November ballot as it has become clear residents are divided on whether or not they want to see the Tide expanded into Virginia Beach.

Much of the discussion has come after City Treasurer John Atkinson, who is against light rail, started a petition to get a referendum added to the November ballot.

“There is a citizen drive out there to generate signatures and to generate this petition,” said Councilman Jim Wood during the meeting. “If they get the signatures and they get it certified, than they do.”

Wood was one of a number of council members who did not want to endorse Atkinson’s referendum.

Dyer made the point that the referendum is voter-driven, which is a reason for council to support it.

The motion Dyer proposed said, “City Council supports the grassroots efforts of Virginia Beach’s citizens to place this important question before the voters via a referendum so that the voters may make their views clear.”

Councilwoman Shannon Kane said Tuesday night, the issue of light rail has been weighing on the minds of everyone on city council. She said she has been asking residents about it whenever she sees them. She also said, she would pay close attention to the outcome of any referendum.

“A lot of things have changed since 2012,” said Kane. “And maybe the citizens, they do need to weigh in and let us know how they feel.”

In the end, Councilman John Moss said he would support Dyer’s motion to endorse the referendum. However, both Moss and Mayor Will Sessoms suggested Dyer withdraw the motion and leave the referendum to the residents who have signed the petition. Several council members pointed out Tuesday night that Atkinson has already collected more than enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

“If one thing has been accomplished, we had a long overdue discussion,” said Dyer before he withdrew the motion.

Atkinson tells he has collected more than 31,000 signatures and his team is still counting them. He has more than enough to now file his petition. Atkinson said he intended to file the petition on Wednesday. However, he realized he wouldn’t be able to submit additional signatures. He will now file his petition in Virginia Beach Circuit Court on Monday.

City council also heard an update on the light rail project during a work session before the formal meeting.

City Manager Dave Hansen and others went over the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the city. Hansen said council is set to vote on the MOU at their April 5 meeting. The understanding means the state would give Virginia Beach $155 million in funding for the project.

As part of the MOU, the city must move forward with purchasing vehicles. President and CEO of Hampton Roads Transit, William Harrell, said Tuesday three light rail cars would cost $19.2 million.

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