Last Thursday night, local residents gathered at the Archuleta County Extension Building to ask questions regarding the Ballot Issue 3B and State Proposition 103 (read about the county road measure in related article). The forum was hosted by the Archuleta County League of Women Voters.
Ballot Issue 3B, which has garnered much of the public’s interest both for and against, would raise property taxes to fund a $49 million bond initiative for the purpose of building new schools for Archuleta School District 50 Jt. The new K-8 building(s), though not specified in the ballot language, would be built on the recently-purchased 53 acres adjacent to the high school campus in South Pagosa.
Current school board member Joanne Irons spoke in favor of the issue, while Archuleta County Democratic Party chair Nan Rowe spoke against. With tax increases and education as the topic of conversation, it did not take long for the temperature inside the building to heat up.
“I am proud to sit on the school board,” Irons said, then went on to clarify what Ballot Issue 3B entailed. The figure: $49 million, no other number at this point. And for that, the community would have a new, up-to-date K-8 building(s).
Rowe’s opposition, though, was not based in the number; it was based in the process by which the school board brought this issue to the public. “I don’t doubt that the school board has a mission, but it has not been fished out with the public,” Rowe said. “The public was not brought in.”
Local resident Bruce Dryburgh brought the matter of the ballot language up for question. The lack of articulation was troubling. “I think we deserve the details,” he said.
Irons stood firm. The meetings were open, she said, the board accepted the recommendation from the steering committee, and until the ballot passes, no design of the new facility could be created.
“When this passes, say yes to be on the design committee,” Irons urged Dryburgh, Rowe and the rest of the public in attendance.
Rowe, however, shared Dryburgh’s concern with the ballot language, stating that it was so vague she didn’t know if the money would be used for geothermal fish farms if the measure passed.
Resident John Taylor brought to the congregates’ attention that the previoius high school went through a similar process. It was the 1980s, the building was failing, the economy was bad, and construction of a new facility would have been affordable. A bond initiative was put on the ballot. It failed. “Is the community going to make the same mistake?” Taylor asked.
Rowe, said she voted for the bond issue in the ’90s that funded construction of the current high school. However, now, she is not in favor of new buildings, “... if we fix what we have right now.” Throughout questioning, Rowe reiterated her main statement: “If I knew more of what the project looked like.”
Diane Killen asked Rowe, if all the details were known, “will you really vote no because of the process.”
“Yes,” Rowe responded. “The process really is that important to me.”
Irons, also recalling the failed initiative of the ’80s, said, then, the public took too long. “Right now, we have a small window to build for a good price.” The facilities, she reminded the audience, contribute to teacher effectiveness.
Irons stated that the process was followed to the “letter of the law” in terms of state requirements.
State Proposition 103
Jim Huffman spoke against the state proposition, with no one speaking in favor. According to the LVW coordinator, after many calls, no one could be found to speak in favor of the proposition.
Proposition 103, commonly referred as a “Band-aid,” would increase state income tax up to 5 percent and sales tax up to 3 percent for the next five years. However, it is not specified how this money will be used other than for education.
“This is a big problem. I don’t trust politicians and I don’t trust the government,” Huffman said. “You have to watch their hands, not their lips.”
Huffman offered an alternative to the proposition. Instead of giving the money to the state in the form of a tax increase with vague ballot language lacking specified allocation of that money, said Huffman, if a person thinks the schools need money, they can write the schools a check. Give the money directly to the schools. “We could have funded an upgrade for the schools if we’d have given money straight to the schools,” Huffman said.