Imagination Station pins its hopes on provisional county ballots

11/8/2012
BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lori Hauser, CEO of Imagination Station, faces a long wait for the official tally from the election. Nearly 14,000 provisional and absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
Lori Hauser, CEO of Imagination Station, faces a long wait for the official tally from the election. Nearly 14,000 provisional and absentee ballots have yet to be counted.

Lori Hauser anxiously watched into the early morning hours Wednesday as Imagination Station’s levy renewal request sank by a slim margin.

Now Ms. Hauser, the science center’s chief executive officer, faces a longer wait and hopes for a vote tally reversal when Lucas County counts provisional ballots.

Unofficial general election results show only 1,075 votes, or 0.56 percent, separate the five-year, 0.17-mill levy renewal from victory. It failed by a margin of 95,065-93,990. Ms. Hauser hopes that 10,203 provisional ballots can still propel it to success.

“We’re going into it with an optimistic look,” she said, adding that thousands of Lucas County residents’ “voices need to be heard.”

An additional 3,783 unreturned absentee ballots, if postmarked by Nov. 5 and received by Nov. 16, also could affect the outcome.

The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $5.21 annually. Ms. Hauser said the current levy, which expires at the end of 2013, generates about $1.3 million a year. Public funding represents about 40 percent of the science center’s $3 million annual operating budget, with other revenue coming from admissions, memberships, a retail store, a restaurant, and private fund-raising.

David Waterman, Imagination Station board chairman, said he was “stunned” and “disappointed” by the result of the levy request — the smallest on the county ballot. Early polling indicated solid support for the request, he said.

“We knew there was some headwinds; the headwinds were all of the levies,” he said. “There can be levy fatigue; countering that, though, is that certainly a renewal is not automatic, but it should be easier.”

The science center, formerly called COSI, closed in 2007 amid funding challenges and after two failed levy attempts. It reopened in October, 2009, under the name Imagination Station after voters in 2008 approved the existing levy.

Mr. Waterman said one possible reason for the renewal request’s failure is that some voters might have found the science center’s new name unfamiliar. That wasn’t the reason Bill Schoen, 63, of Toledo, gave for casting a vote against the renewal. He said science is important but said taxpayers don’t “have an obligation” to fund a center. The father of seven likened visiting the science center to going to a movie — if it’s a good film, people will pay to see it.

“There’s not enough money in this community to keep funding levies,” he said.

Collection on the levy renewal that appeared on Tuesday’s ballot would begin in 2014. Ms. Hauser said the science center decided to seek the renewal this year because it would give the organization planning time to book exhibitions and because turnout is higher during a presidential-election year. The levy pays for exhibits and programs, she said.

The extra year of funding means Imagination Station “would have another chance” to go before voters if election results don’t change, Mr. Waterman said. He expects the science center will try again if necessary.

“Last time maybe the message was clearer. We had a building that was dark, decaying, and boarded up in places,” he said. “Honestly, if we don’t extend our levy beyond the end of next year we will have to close again.”

Ms. Hauser said visitors won’t notice any operational changes as the center waits for final vote numbers to shake out.

“I don’t think we need to do anything hasty. I think we’ll wait to see how the provisionals come out,” Mr. Waterman said.

The board of elections must complete its official canvass by Nov. 27.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.