Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Maine Prairie Township is well into its process of developing a comprehensive growth plan. The process is a mirror of that taken by the City of Kimball about two years ago: public meetings to assess the assets and liabilities of the community, and to help shape the priorities of each community's plans for the future; several meetings by a core group of people committed to the process, guided by community planning professionals; and forging out a written plan document, where none had existed before, that describes in some detail what local citizens want for their community in the near and not-so-near future.
During the public meetings for the City of Kimball, dozens of community members came to the public meetings. We wrote on big sheets of paper taped to the walls of the Church of Christ, where the meetings were held. We put sticky dots on those lists to show popularity of those things listed. We colored on maps where we thought industry, housing, or retail should grow.
The result was a two-part bound plan that the city can now use as a guideline for future planning.
Maine Prairie is at the point of beginning to draft that planning document.
Meanwhile, Stearns County has recently revised their comprehensive growth plans. In the last year or two, communication between these three governmental bodies has increased, with a goal of working together for planned growth that local citizens (and not just government officials) agree upon.
Two of us have been involved in both the Kimball and Maine Prairie planning process. (Jim Unterberger is the other.) It's a fascinating process to observe: the first time as something totally new, and the second time as something familiar.
One of the main things I remember from the beginning of the Kimball process was listing assets and liabilities for the Kimball area, not just the city. By a screaming majority, our schools were the biggest asset identified by the dozens of people there. At the same time, finding opportunities for youth (like well-paying jobs for them after graduation) was identified as a major liability. That was in the fall of 2007. From the feeling in the room that night, I have no doubt that just about any amount of money the schools asked for would have been happily granted by taxpaying citizens. That's how high the pride in our schools was.
So here we are, two years later, facing the need to tax ourselves to help the schools. This is the intent of the state, actually: withholding payment to local schools in order to get local taxpayers to pay more of the cost of educating our students. And it's interesting that school districts are the only governmental bodies that need to put a tax increase to a vote by those who will pay it. Cities, townships, watershed districts, counties, and the state can increase taxes to meet their expenses as they need to. Schools must ask permission and receive a majority approval by taxpayers.
So, I wonder how much of the pride in that room two years ago is still floating around. I haven't seen a critical mass of it like that again, all in one room at one time. But I'm sure it's still out there. I know many individuals who express that pride in our schools and our community.
We've all felt the economic squeeze of the recession they tell us we're now beginning to recover from. The schools are no exception. What they're asking for is a portion back of the tax decrease we enjoyed this year; our net tax should be less than it was two years ago (depending on market values of properties, many of which have declined).
I urge you to get out Tuesday afternoon to vote Nov. 3. Vote for three board members, as they are crucial to our schools' future, facing difficult decisions at every meeting. And show your pride in your community and your schools by voting "YES" to the levy being requested.