There have been a few public opinions by supporters of NAFCS’ safety referendum as to why it was defeated at the polls. Those opinions are not only erroneous, but they illustrate the tone deafness that contributed to that defeat. This includes the opinion by school Superintendent Dr. Brad Snyder that many people voted against the $25 million tax hike because they had not taken the time to read or understand the proposal. That is presumptuous to the point of insult, especially considering that many of his own “Yes” voters had not read it. In reality, people voted against it because they understood it only too well.
I don’t know how Dr. Snyder arrived at his conclusion, being unaware of any voter surveys or serious effort to seek input from county residents not in the PTO crowd. Publishing a three-part newspaper argument supporting the referendum is not a discourse, it’s a lecture…and it failed to address many residents’ reservations or objections. In no particular order, here are some of the actual reasons for the voting results.
The amount: While some financially comfortable people may not understand this, $25 million is a lot of money to a lot of people, especially coming so soon after NAFCS saddled residents and businesses with the incredible 20-year debt of $133 million just 3 years ago ($87 million plus interest on the bond). The defeated referendum would have raised that burden to approximately $158 million… which translates to over $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in our county! Of course, some residents and business owners would be forced to pay more than others, a fact of which they were keenly aware. And it must be nice to be recession proof, but some people are taking a large financial hit this year.
On a related note, our civic group, GCC, Inc., warned numerous times during the prior referendum that such a huge tax increase would make many taxpayers reluctant to support another tax hike anytime soon. Unfortunately, those warnings were dismissed by the administration…but apparently not by the voters.
The rollout: Another strike against the proposal was that, for most people, it appeared out of nowhere. With the possible exception of some school board discussion (unfortunately attended by very few residents), there appears to have been no attempt to involve the community in the process of assessing the district’s security needs, if any, or formulating measures to address any such perceived needs. Most residents were not even aware of the alleged need for additional “safety” measures until they were asked to pay for them. Even then there was a vagueness to the proposal that alienated some people…especially at such a hefty price. Were clarity and public outreach sacrificed for the sake of speed, with our administration dashing to apply for the funding as soon as the law was amended to allow it?
The trust factor: Or, rather, a lack of trust. With that vagueness and lack of public outreach, many people were confused and irritated when they discovered that the lion’s share of funding was intended for mental or emotional health rather than the traditional security concerns implied by the wording of the referendum (aka public question). Are we supposed to believe it was just a coincidence that the 4-point question was flip-flopped to appear as if facility security was the top priority when it was actually the lowest?
People were also skeptical of alleged safety needs requiring such large expenditures. I realize the new law incorporates mental health into the category of safety, but most people do not. Many saw only that our facilities are successful in reducing or preventing the few security threats occurring over the past few years.
For many, this lack of trust had its roots in the dubious bond promotion campaigns of 2015 and 2016, and the notoriety of the $3 million soccer field. People remembered the deception and alleged statutory violations used to market that bond: from the ridiculous claim that it was not a raise in property taxes (which language was twice rejected by the state) to the apparently unlawful use of taxpayer resources to promote it [in violation of IC 6-1.1-20-10.1, sections (b)(1), (2), and (3)].
Many were also incensed at the diversion of $3 million for a soccer field they evidently had planned from the beginning but claimed to have thought of only after the necessary amount “luckily” became available from projects under budget. Instead of using that $3.2M to pay down the bond, saving over $4.5 million with interest, they spent it to replace a rundown practice field at Prosser. Their tactics ruined that new-field-smell for many taxpayers.
The clumsy marketing of the current wish list thus fell on suspicious ears.
The core concept: Some citizens do not share the administration’s belief in expensive socialized health programs for which they do not see a need or even disdain as elements of a nanny state (there’s that public outreach issue, again). Even some who may sympathize with such programs feel that they should be tackled on a state level rather than thrust solely upon the backs of county taxpayers, especially those of meager resources or on fixed incomes. Basically, the state punted on the issue and county voters refused to run with it.
Hopefully, the administration will consider this an “education” that trust should not be abused and that a reasoned and transparent approach is better than a mad dash for the cash.
Joseph Moore, Georgetown Township, on behalf of Grassroots Concerned Citizens (GCC, Inc.)