Tuesday was a coming together
Published 2:07 am Monday, December 15, 2003
I had a chance to speak with a lot of people in the weeks leading up to last Tuesday's tax referendum about which way they thought the vote would swing.
Escambia County voters were being asked to renew an existing three-mill education tax, and implement a new 10-mill measure on top of that.
They were being asked to pay more, for their car tags and in taxes on their property, to keep the local schools from being gutted by state funding cuts.
The question was, largely, whether taxpayers here were willing to pick up and carry a burden that had been shouldered by someone else, the state, until recently.
The repercussions if they didn't? Programs would be cut, facilities would close, jobs would be lost.
How would the county vote?
Most of the people I talked to were unwilling to venture a strong opinion one way or another. The general consensus seemed to be that this pivotal decision for the county could go either way.
More than one person ventured that supporters of the tax measure and those who opposed it were very evenly split, and that the "race" was a dead heat.
Certainly, no one used words like "landslide" or "overwhelming" when predicting how the vote would go, whether they were for or against raising local taxes to support the schools.
But those words, as well as others signifying a lopsided outcome, have been used quite a bit since late Tuesday evening, when it became apparent the tax measure had been approved.
And indeed, the 63 percent to 36 percent margin by which the tax was passed makes the use of such terms appropriate.
Certainly, no one who supported the measure could be accused of gloating. There are simply no better words to describe what happened in Escambia County on Dec. 9. Last Tuesday was certainly a moment when the majority spoke, loudly and in an easy-to-understand way.
And it was a majority carved largely from every area of the county, as the tax measure enjoyed pockets of support even where that wasn't expected.
Brewton City School Board president Stephanie Walker probably described it best when she said, "It's a great thing that our community came together."
That's what happened, and it was a heartening thing to see. Now, the challenge will be for supporters of the school systems here -- both city and county -- to maintain the positive momentum such a coming together has created.
That's what is required to maintain a strong school system -- a coming together. Not just in times of potential crisis, such as that recent state funding shortfalls created, but every day.
The schools are vital components of our community, and working toward keeping them strong is something people have to see and feel as a responsibility. The results of Tuesday's election are a good indication that people here do feel that way. They want the schools to stay strong, to be well taken care of.
People inside and outside the school systems came together and made this clear. If that sort of focus can be maintained, there's no limit to what the schools here can achieve.
-John Dilmore Jr. is publisher of The Brewton Standard. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org