Referendum Repeat in April? Taxed to the Max Again

The Batavia School Board plans to hold a special meeting early next year to decide whether to place a bond referendum before voters in the April school board and municipal election.

Voters narrowly rejected a $140 million issue in the Nov. 9 general election that would have involved demolishing and replacing two of Batavia’s four elementary schools. The board faces a Jan. 17 deadline if it wants to place an issue on the April ballot.

Half a dozen citizens addressed the board at its Dec. 20 meeting and all but one urged placing the same issue on the April ballot. One speaker, Sylvia Keppel, said an April election does not give a fair assessment of what voters think since turnout is so much lower than in November  elections.

“I would think you would want an overwhelming mandate for projects like this,” Keppel said. “If you’re going to try again wait until the November 2024 presidential election” when a more representative sampling of voter sentiment can be obtained, she said.

Later in the meeting, School Superintendent Lisa Hichens acknowledged that if the board places the exact same issue on the April ballot “people are not going to like that” since they so recently provided their answer in an election that saw a 65 percent turnout.

The board indicated it could decide to place the same issue before voters, scale it back or delay going to voters again.

The board conducted an analysis of voter feedback that included a survey of district residents, focus groups and phone interviews.

“The most prevalent of all primary themes, the prominent perception, was that the plan lacked specificity and clarity,” the feedback study stated. It also said:

“It appears that the need for the referendum was not clearly conveyed. Many felt that voters were unaware of the referendum, uninformed of the consequences of its success or failure, or that convincing information was too difficult to find.

“Several were concerned about misinformation from both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns.

“The second most frequent theme … focused on the tax burden. Many felt
that the case for the referendum was not compelling to justify the
taxes already collected. Many comments cited the truthfulness of ‘no
tax increase’ campaign literature, that taxes would otherwise
decrease, and impugned the trustworthiness of leadership.

“It appears that some voters do not understand the underlying
mechanics of the tax levy. Yet others indicated that the referendum
question, itself, indicates that finances have been mismanaged,” the
feedback study stated.

On another matter, the board voted unanimously to increase property
taxes by an average of 4.6 percent starting next year. The new  tax levy would increase the taxes on a median-valued  home ($350,000) by
$308 annually.

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