It’s not easy to be in the minority, and it’s even more difficult to speak up when your concerns may go against the grain. But we’ve had two examples in recent weeks that illustrate the importance of community conversations — right or wrong — especially when it concerns our future.
Gig Harbor citizens have stepped up to discuss both Peninsula School District’s proposed four-year, $50 million capital levy, which will appear on the November ballot, and the Gig Harbor City Council’s proposed ordinance that would affect building height in waterfront districts. Our editorial board hasn’t taken official positions on either issue.
With the school district levy, it’s hard to argue against buildings being in disrepair. Purdy Elementary is overcrowded by a couple hundred students, and Artondale Elementary is cracking at the seams. The school board believes the best way to fix those issues is to build a new school near the YMCA in Gig Harbor North and to rebuild Artondale. What’s left would go to update athletic fields and their synthetic surfaces.
Jerry Gibbs and Ken Manning think differently. The leaders of the Citizens for Responsible School Spending group say all options haven’t been considered, and they’re worried taxpayers will be tapped out in a few years and unwilling to approve a regular maintenance and operations levy when it comes time to renew.
Unlike most capital measures, the school board moved this proposal forward as a levy, which needs only a simple majority to pass. Most capital improvement projects reach the ballot as a bond measure to extend payments over time and to take advantage of low interest rates.
Bonds also require a 60 percent supermajority for approval. The PSD put forward a $78 million bond measure in February 2012, when it wanted to update and renovate several schools, and it received 58 percent approval — not quite enough to pass.
Gibbs and Manning are questioning the logic of running this proposal as a levy, suggesting school district officials are just taking advantage of getting a simple majority, and they’re pointing to the costs — a nearly 60 percent increase in the portion of property tax that peninsula-area residents pay toward schools.
That’s not an overall property-tax increase — just the portion that goes to the PSD — but it’s raising eyebrows. The estimate rate, if approved, would jump $1.40 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, from about $2.35 per $1,000 to about $3.75 per $1,000.
The other important conversation going on right now involves the Citizens for the Preservation of the Downtown Gig Harbor Waterfront and Gig Harbor City Council members.
As we wrote earlier this month, Jeni Woock has been instrumental — and tireless — in her efforts to get her point across: Gig Harbor residents don’t want a corridor feel as they walk Harborview Drive, and they certainly don’t want their views to disappear.
While we don’t think that would happen, considering current regulations or the city’s proposal, Woock’s voice and the hundreds of others who signed petitions have paused the process enough to reopen public comment — a very important step in every democratic society.
While some of the comments were off-base and suggested the city was trying to pull a fast one — the council has been discussing the issue since July and previously held a public-comment period — it’s nice to see individuals can still have an impact on a governmental body, particularly from a grassroots effort.
Neither one of these issues has been settled, but there are people in both instances who are standing up for what they believe is right and sharing opinions that may not come from the majority.
If the school levy does pass, it’ll be paid for in four years, and it will drop off the property-tax bill afterward. Maintenance and operations will be ongoing.
If new height restrictions are put in place, the city will enforce its rules. Council members live here, too, and they must balance all issues that concern community atmosphere.
Without people like Gibbs, Manning and Woock, we might not hear as much from different sides, and, therefore, not find better solutions.