It’s necessary to campaign for funding measures on ballot
About a month ago, the District 51 School Board approved a bond measure and mill levy override for this fall’s ballot, and with less than four months to go, I have yet to see them launch a campaign. Add to that the county’s public safety measure that appears to be eating itself from the inside out as commissioners argue about how to split up the 0.37 percent sales tax increase between rural and city services and you have three ballot measures coming at voters this fall. After watching this spring’s Event Center measure go down in flames after what appeared to be a ten week campaign, I can easily imagine a scenario where we get to the end of 2017 in no better a position to fund schools, the city and the county than we started at the beginning of the year.
It’s to be expected, right? This community famously won’t ever support a tax increase. Except that I don’t believe that. It’s not fair to make that claim when all four campaigns have one thing in common- no time to educate the public and, most importantly, gain their trust. Campaigns take years, not months and I kind of think we’re already too late to gain that trust for this fall’s ballot measures. A few well-placed ads and commercials during peak times aren’t going to cut it.
These problems have been building for years, maybe even decades. To throw together a campaign in a few months and expect the public at large- the 70,000 people in this valley who are not reading this paper- to approve it without the city or the county or the school board making their case is unfair. It also feels impulsive and desperate and those are traits that the sensible people of the Grand Valley don’t like. I strongly believe that our community would support all of the above, if they were given all the facts and the time to discuss and understand the issues. But they haven’t been given that opportunity this year. Their trust has not yet been earned.
It’s interesting too, because as a community, we know how to raise money for big projects. In fact, we do it really well. One only needs to look at our own non-profit community for a solid example of how to get these “big lifts” done. We have plenty of organizations that have raised millions of dollars to accomplish long-term strategic goals to make our community a healthier, more vibrant place to live, work, and play. Volunteer boards across the valley know how to commit to a strategic plan and then launch a well-funded, long-term campaign to inform the public, explain the need and raise the money. And when our community understands that there is a need and is clear on where their hard-earned money is going, they step up and give. We’re an extremely generous community- but we’re not blindly generous. It’s just common sense.
Long and well-planned campaigns allow donors to gain trust in the non-profits in which they are investing. Why do we not expect the same from our government agencies asking for additional funding?
District 51 should be hosting weekly open houses to show the public what the maintenance needs are and to help them understand the ratio of administrators to teachers to students. Per student funding doesn’t really mean that much to the average voter. Not having enough books and desks while ceilings fall in our students- that means something. And it’s not simply convincing families with school-aged kids- we know how desperately our schools fundraise for things like carpeting and reading aids. It’s gaining the trust of all of those people who don’t deal with our schools on a daily basis. They only know the headlines — that the Superintendent gets paid over $200,000 a year and that nobody ever gets fired- even those that commit crimes. Gaining that trust and making the case for additional funding takes time and I fear we’re out of time for this fall’s ballot.
Sheriff Matt Lewis and District Attorney Dan Rubenstein have done a better job explaining their need and what additional funding would buy. Any of us who know or work with any of our law enforcement officers (city or county) know how underfunded and overtasked they are. But support for that measure is going to come down to a solid understanding of where the money is going. And since the commissioners are still scrapping over those details, I worry that they’re losing valuable time.
I sure hope I’m wrong.