Editor's Note: This editorial has been updated to correct the description of the Kalkaska Kaliseum proposal. It is a millage.
When it comes to taxpayer-funded community projects a defeat at the polls doesn’t mean death.
Tuesday’s election drew out a sizable chunk of local voters who said ‘no’ to Kalkaska’s Kaliseum and school bonds proposals in Kingsley and Benzie Central School districts.
Kalkaska County residents voted down a $30 million millage to renovate and operate the Kaliseum Recreational Complex by more than 500 votes. Kingsley Area Schools district voters slammed a $40 million bond to build a new middle school, auditoriums and security measures by nearly 3 to 1.
But the biggest ticket item — a Benzie Central Schools measure for a $47.9 million construction and improvement project — only lost by 114 votes.
That slim margin signals to us that the BCS proposal probably needs tweaking, while the other two need a long second look. Because we know — like zombies — bond proposals are never really, truly dead. They will rise again, and our hope is that instead of trying to grind voters down with repeated, expensive elections, their proponents will adopt the age-old wisdom of our predecessors in learning from their mistakes.
The trend these days is to accompany proposals with many listening sessions focused on important community feedback. Of course, responses like “you want this; you don’t need this” and “it’s too much money for us right now” and “what did you do with the last big bump?” are deemed unhelpful and unheard.
It’s important to taxpayers that listening sessions are held before the ballot language is chosen.
It’s also important that these sessions are merely efforts used to guide voters into the desired camp. They need to be true efforts demonstrating transparency and actual listening and hearing what the folks who finance these projects really want and believe they need.
We are struggling, too, especially in areas with a large population on fixed incomes or rural areas reliant on agriculture.
This doesn’t mean we’re unreasonable — or should be blamed for 20 years of letting a building deteriorate (in terms of the Kaliseum). Twenty years is a long time for public servants to sit on their hands.
We agree with proponents of every one of these measures that their communities would benefit from new schools and a fully functioning recreation center.
We also know that any tax proposal may struggle against rumor control, scare tactics and a general lack of understanding what is being asked, the cost and what voters stand to measurably get in return for their purchase.
Clear, simple requests are a part of this. The long-game negotiating strategy of asking for the moon, then scaling down the next time to get what is really desired (and look like you’re being responsive) doesn’t sit right when it comes to our tax dollars.
Taxpayers want frugality and ROI from the get-go.
The easiest way to show us that you’re doing that is to let us in. Facilitating these connections between retirees and our schools and services are important — like the community fitness center proposed by the Benzie Central Schools. Of course, building something new is the easy part; it’s the operations and maintenance that’s the real struggle.
Sometimes even with all those boxes checked, tax proposals still just won’t fly. That’s OK. But many do. This May, all of the renewal elections passed, as did the increase to the Leland Township fire millage. Staffing two stations was what the community wanted. They were heard.