Building a forward-looking community in an anti-tax county
A few conversations I’ve been involved in and a few things I’ve read during the past few weeks have me thinking maybe I shouldn’t be too glum about the outcome of School District 51’s TABOR override election last month.
I still think the magnitude of the defeat — 3-to-2 — sends a message about Mesa County that I and more than a few others don’t want to send. It’s a message that perhaps education isn’t important, that our priorities aren’t where they should be, that high-quality jobs aren’t at the top of our wish list. It’s a message that won’t bring jobs here, or anything else we want, for that matter.
Others who supported the issue see it differently. The election may have been not so much a victory for, granted, a large bloc of noisy people whose only goal is to block any tax increase for any reason whatsoever. Mesa County is full of them. They have big bullhorns and they won that round.
We get it. Nobody likes to pay taxes. But this is not Alaska and not everyone wants to be an end-of-the-roader. Governments in the past have gone overboard. They have overspent. They have misspent. They have been terrible stewards of our money. We have all been taxed when we should not have been. So it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply saying “no” to anything government wants. Skepticism is one thing. Obstructionism another.
My glass-half-full friends think the school district defeat may have been because of a badly timed and badly executed election. The message from the school district had too many moving parts. That was primarily because the district was unaware as of Election Day just what it could expect from the state next year. That made for a vague message. We might use the money for this, or we might use it for that, said the school district. Voters don’t like that. They said so at the polls.
Maybe it was too expensive. Money is tight for everyone. Had the school district asked for half a loaf maybe it would have been successful. But then maybe the district felt it was asking for half a loaf.
Maybe all of those no votes weren’t anti-taxers. Maybe they were simply not convinced or simply couldn’t afford it right now.
Now we move on. The school district must, and will, figure out how to get by with what it has. Parents with kids in school who care about their education must, and will, figure out how their children can get a quality education. It may be in School District 51 and it may not.
Community leaders are scratching their heads and wondering how we can make Mesa County a progressive (I use the word not in the contemporary political sense, but rather the historical definition of moving forward) community that will make the investments in education and infrastructure necessary to make this a place we and our children want to live.
The pessimist in me would advise them they are tilting at windmills, except the giants are real. So the task is more more difficult.
They start by doing what smart people always do. The November election is over. Learn what we can from it and move on.
Take stock of what we’ve done. When we do, we realize we’ve made some great strides recently. There is the renovation of Main Street and Colorado Avenue. There is the transformation of Colorado Mesa University. There is the Riverfront Trail system. There is the Riverside Parkway. We have a new City Hall and a new public safety building is under construction. We have a new criminal justice building.
Those are all impressive projects.
But what’s more important is that the people who want success stories like that to continue are smart and committed. They care about Mesa County and aren’t willing to let it become anything other than what it has been for them: The place they call home and the place they want their kids to call home.