MIDDLETON – Voters in the community of Middleton are busy preparing for next week's primary election. For many in this rural community in Canyon County, two particular issues of concern are school funding and funding for fire rescue services.
In March, the Middleton School District asked local voters to approve a levy worth $1 million, and the measure ultimately failed. However, according to district staff, the levy would not have significantly increased taxes -- instead it would have simply extended them.
Didi Borge has five kids enrolled in the Middleton School District. She believes that fear of rising taxes kept those at the polls from voting 'yes'.
“I think most people just didn't understand it -- I think that they all thought their taxes were going up,” Borge said.
Come May 15th, the Middleton School District will ask voters to approve yet another levy to try to restore funding. This time, the district is asking for a $1.08 million bond for two years.
Dr. Rich Bauscher is the Superintendent of Middleton Schools. Bauscher also believes the levy failed because voters didn't fully undertand why the district asked for the bailout.
Now he's out to change that.
To do so, Bauscher and his staff decided to regroup, and get more information about the critical nature of the levy out to the public. “We are just asking to maintain what we have currently offered,” Bauscher told KTVB.
Bauscher says if voters do approve the new levy this time, taxes on the average home in the district will rise by about eight dollars per month, or $106 per year. Bauscher bases that figure on a single-family home valued at $115,000.
What's more, Bauscher says that's actually the same amount voters have been paying in taxes from 2010 and 2011.
Other district staff members are aware of the growing problem of shrinking funds.
Middleton High School teacher and freshman volleyball coach Terry Hardy says the district is “working with the bare minimum.”
“Over the last three years we have looked at 12 to 13 percent cuts, and we are working with the bare minimum right now,” Hardy said. “What it would mean to kids is a decrease in the quality of education.”
Jenny Easly is a Middleton School District parent. On Tuesday, she told KTVB she believes voters should approve the school levy.
“Of course it benefits our kids, our community, but our property values are tied to a vibrant school district and thriving business,” said Easly.
District officials discuss the consequences
Middleton School District staff said they have already cut $1.9 million from the budget over the past three years, and simply cannot afford to cut more.
However, if voters decide to say 'no' to the levy again, Superintendent Bauscher said faculty will get cut, programs will be trimmed, and parents will likely have to pay for their kids to play.
“Right now we have about 60 percent of our students involved in extracurricular activities,” said Hardy.
Fire Department Funding
The school district levy is not the only tough decision voters will need to make on election Tuesday. Middleton Rural Fire District Commissioner Mike Ingram and the rest of his fire crew have been busy trying to get voters familiar with their levy.
“When you pick up the phone, you want us there quick and if our funding mechanism goes away and we are unable to provide those services in that manner where else are you going to go?” said Ingram.
Middleton Fire is asking for $575,240 for two years, and just like the school’s levy, this is not an increase in taxes, but instead a budget override that was approved in 2010. This budget override will expire on December 31, 2012.
If the proposed levy does not’t pass, nine full-time Middleton firefighters will lose their paid positions and the department will go all volunteer. Ingram also said emergency response time would suffer.
Fire Dept. Consequences
Just a few weeeks ago, a home in Middleton caught fire.
Firefighters staffed at the station responded in less than two minutes, but the nearest volunteer firefighter couldn’t arrive until 20 minutes after the fire was reported. Ingram worries that this could cost the public its safety.
“It could be 45 minutes; I can make no guarantees with that staff," Ingram said. "The sole reason we put these people here was to take care of a problem of not being able to respond in a timely manner and that came about through our community after the high school fire,” said Ingram."