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Show taxpayers value, and they will vote for it

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 12:01 am

Most really aren't looking for government on the cheap.

Brown County should take a lesson from Fort Wayne Community Schools on how to deal with voter rejection: Don’t give up. Instead, give the voters something they will find more palatable.

Officials in that southern Indiana county wanted to spend $4 million on a courthouse renovation project, which would have made the building safer and compliant with accessibility guidelines, as well as adding additional office space. But opposition mounted to the project, and a petition drive against it was organized. A counter-petition drive in favor of the proposal followed.

The votes have now been counted, and the wishes of Brown County residents are not ambiguous: Only 182 petitioners were for the project, and about 1,400 were against it. Officials now must wait a full year before bringing an alternative proposal before voters.

Something more realistic, perhaps – a little more modest and defensible?

That was the solution found by FWCS officials after voters overwhelmingly rejected the Yellow Ribbon Task Force’s school renovation plan that would have cost a breathtaking $500 million, not to mention the $350 million in interest on the bonds to pay for the project.

The school board waited a few years, then came back with a scaled-down plan: a three-phase project to spend $119 million to fix the worst building problems in the first phase, then $60 million and $62 million in the second and third phases. This time the voters said yes.

That’s the approach Brown County officials should take, too.

“We need to think very carefully how we use our dollars because they are limited,” said anti-project petition signer Susanne Gaudin, “and I think that if we have an independent individual or individuals come forward and take a look at county property and all locations and all options, that we will find what is best for our county.” She is the president of the League of Women voters in Brown County – not your typical uninformed yahoo.

Voters who say no to new tax-funded projects are often criticized as no-new-tax fanatics who can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that it costs money to provide government services.

It’s an unfair assessment. What most taxpayers are looking for is not “no new taxes” or government on the cheap. They simply demand what is their right – fair value for the money spent. Show them that value – a realistic project to meet legitimate needs – and explain it to them clearly and fully, and they will get on board.