Vote yes Tuesday

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Storm Lake has a problem unlike almost any rural school district in Iowa: Enrollment is growing so fast our facilities can’t keep up. This is a tremendous problem to have. Managing growth is a lot more fun than watching a community dissipate into the ether. Growth is not free. We will be asked on Tuesday to approve of a property tax increase to finance a $30 million early childhood education center. Go out and vote “yes” for the future of Storm Lake and a better education for our children.

We have reviewed many times how the Storm Lake School Board’s excellent financial management has allowed us to build a new elementary school and rebuild the high school with nary a property tax increase. Storm Lake was able to use the school sales tax instead of property taxes. But the Iowa Legislature in an election year could not let it be seen that a tax was extended beyond 2029, because it might be interpreted as a tax increase. The Republicans who run the legislature refused to extend the sunset on the tax. Apparently the Johnston School District built too nice a gym, and people in Vail and Schleswig resent that.

So Storm Lake now must seek voter approval to increase property taxes. It will be a lift for some households, but one-twelfth the size of your annual cable TV bill.

We do not seriously question the need. East School was built for a smaller district in a different time. Likewise Gingerbread House. Yet our enrollments are growing every year. The elementary school is squeezed and was built less than a decade ago. The early childhood education center will relieve space crunches in both the elementary and middle schools. We should not be using portable classrooms for permanent space needs.

The school board has proven over the years that it is reluctant to increase property taxes. It did not approve the early childhood project on a lark. Former Supt. Carl Turner was talking about it years ago. We simply have to get the job done.

If it fails, pin it on our Republican legislators who failed to look out for Storm Lake, and hope that the sales tax is extended in the next issue of the legislature.

We hope it passes. The bond committee has been hard at work promoting the issue. But the cards are stacked against the prospect of a successful vote. Extremely low turnout in a special election that requires 60% voter support can scuttle a good project. That’s why it is important for teachers, school staff, parents and grandparents to turn out and vote yes for continued growth and progress in Storm Lake. We can vote for better schools even if our legislators will not.

Building the marina

The Storm Lake City Council did the right thing by Buoy’s, operator of the Storm Lake Marina on the west side, during budget work this week. The council agreed to invest $75,000 in new infrastructure, including docks, to help the marina finally bail out from years of weak business and a steady stream of operators. Buoy’s is running a nice restaurant/bar with music, taking care of anglers and pleasure boaters, and is working with Tom Fitzpatrick on selling boats. (Little Fitz is moving a few. Anything with a motor on it he will sell, says wife Sue.)

Buoy’s, locally owned, is operated under a yearly lease with the city, which oversees it for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Buoy’s this year invested up to $9,000 in facility repairs and asked for a longer lease in return. The council was reluctant. The decision to invest money in the property, which it can retrieve through more revenue brought in by the marina, is an expression of the city’s commitment to helping Buoy’s to finally sustain a prosperous business there after years of laggard performance. Business picked up a lot last season, we are told. This is important because the marina is a key component in attracting more visitors to The City Beautiful and the lake. That means more tourism, no doubt new residents and more fun for people who live here. It is worth the small sum to see someone finally plant there and grow.

At some point the city must acknowledge that Buoy’s cannot likewise make a long-term commitment to the community without a reasonable lease. A three- or five-year lease is in order, along with the capital improvements scheduled. The lake should be an incredible economic development magnet. It can be, if we manage the facilities along its shores properly.