Jerry Gibbs was coy. John Berry was not.
Gibbs, leader of a group of activists seeking a referendum on Pierce County’s proposed general services building, horsed two boxes of signature sheets to the counter of the county election center on South 35th Street Wednesday morning.
Backers need 24,427 valid signatures to qualify for the Nov. 3 general election ballot, and a vote on the county’s $127 million building proposal. Wednesday was the turn-in deadline. Gibbs wouldn’t say whether he believed he had enough signatures.
He had a count in his head, the labor of an eye-bleeding night, but he wouldn’t disclose it.
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“Do you have a count?” asked Mike Rooney, county elections manager.
“I do,” Gibbs said.
“So what was the count you had?”
“Well, you know, to keep everything equal I guess, I’ll let you guys count ’em, and then we’ll compare the numbers.”
Berry, 83, had no such qualms. Sitting at the entrance of the neighboring Pierce County Annex, where he and other volunteers have been collecting signatures for three months, he gave a forecast.
“We’re gonna get our numbers,” he said.
Gibbs and referendum backers expected to turn in more signatures before the end of the day and the official deadline of 4:30 p.m. The morning turn-in was the bulk; the rest, the stragglers, Gibbs said. He was facing a road trip from one end of the county to the other, gathering remainders.
The signature drive, briefly stalled by an unsuccessful lawsuit, started in February when County Council members voted 4-3 to move ahead with the building project. It would consolidate a number of county offices into one site at 3580 Pacific Avenue, site of the old Puget Sound Hospital.
Construction costs are pegged at $127 million, but the total bill climbs to an estimated $235 million when principal, financing costs and interest are factored in.
County leaders have suggested that if Gibbs meets the signature threshold, the building project could die, but that decision is still up in the air. A separate nonbinding advisory vote, scheduled for the August primary ballot, could provide another test of the public’s appetite for the project.
Rooney expects to begin checking referendum signatures Thursday and continue through the following week, with a hoped-for finish July 10.
Signature checkers look at three key factors, among others, to test validity:
• Each signer must be a registered voter in Pierce County.
• The petition signature must match the registered voter’s previously filed signature.
• The signature and accompanying information must be legible.
Gibbs plans to have observers on-site to watch the signature-checking process.
“The validation process is very complex,” Gibbs said, after dropping off his boxes.
Once more, he shied away from predictions.
“We’re very cautiously optimistic — but I’ll stress cautious,” he said. “You just never know.”