Opinion

Funding school and fire district needs is crucial | In our opinion | Oct. 23

Two very important institutions – our schools and emergency services – are seeking approval (60 percent) of bond levies that they deem pivotal to the island’s way of life. The school district wants $42 million from taxpayers to build a new Wilkes school and repair other facilities; the fire district levy would increase property taxes by 40 cents or less per $1,000 of assessed valuation for 10 years, beginning this year for collection in 2010.

If spurned, it’s obvious that both districts will keep coming back to voters until they get more money because they believe that without specific ameliorations the quality of their public service will suffer greatly. So saying yes or no is mostly about whether you think each district has put together a well-conceived plan that is prudent and fits the community’s needs. In other words, is this the right approach? Or try, try again?

The Review thinks it’s time to approve both levies.

In some ways, the more controversial of the two levies is the school district’s project, which essentially returns intact after being narrrowly defeated in May. After the defeat, the board reviewed the school building standards and had a second professional cost estimate done. After a citizens’ committee gave the estimates a positive review, the board decided to return with the same project. There is some criticism of the amount, but, because some bonds will be retiring, the district can say the timing is right because the levy won’t increase taxes.

While the school levy is about finally addressing facilities after years of neglect, the EMS levy is about shoring up its growing service needs on the island. The fire department is running a deficit through no fault of its own, which means it needs more money or it will be forced to cut service to a city that is unique in our state because of its geography.

The fire district embarked on a thorough strategic plan that led to the funding request, which if approved will put BIFD on par economically with other departments serving similar populations. And on an island where the residents lean toward being elderly, it’s critical that we get this right. Now.

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