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Failed referendum complicates payment for already built River Ridge athletic fields

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GRANT COUNTY (WKOW) -- By one vote, voters in the River Ridge School District said "no" to more than $2 million for athletic fields -- but the money is already spent, and the fields are already built.

"Most likely we'll be going back to a referendum at some point," said Superintendent Clay Koenig.

Koenig says the construction started last spring, using $1.7 million borrowed from the state as well as money from the general River Ridge Budget.

The referendum would have helped pay back that money.

"A progressive decision was made where we're asking for the taxpayer blessing after the project is almost completed," Koenig said.

Some voters who opposed the referendum and didn't want to be identified told 27 News they didn't like being asked to pay for something after the school already went ahead and built it.

With all district students on one campus, Koenig maintains that the complex completes the campus -- and that construction estimates would have increased $80,000 each year the project wasn't done.

He also pointed out that with the new facility, the district won't have to spend $60,000 per year to maintain the old facility.

"The timing of it isn't perfect," Koenig said. "I understand all of those people who have the concerns with the timing of it, so the sole purpose would be to have an exclusive one site, so we're here now."

Without a referendum, the district will try another referendum -- or be forced to find another way to pay, such as by diverting money from other parts of the budget.

This is the second time in four years a referendum for the athletic fields has failed. The district's legal team is currently reviewing the possibility of a recount due to how close the vote was.

The district will canvass the totals, and plans to have that done by Friday.

Three operating referendums passed between 2012 and 2014 -- all less than a million dollars -- but it took three tries to pass a referendum to pay for one campus just outside of Patch Grove. That started at $13 million, but was eventually reduced to around $9.5 million -- which was approved.

The River Ridge School District is located near the Mississippi River in northwestern Grant County.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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