On-the-fence voters get answers on upcoming Milton referendum

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Jim Dayton
Thursday, October 12, 2017

MILTON—Dozens of Milton School District residents packed the high school library Wednesday night for an informational open house about the upcoming referendum.

Most of those in attendance seemed unsure of how to vote. They appeared genuinely interested to get informed and clear up misconceptions they might have heard.

David Baran, a consultant from J.P. Cullen, called the mood a “healthy skepticism.”

Voters will head to the polls Nov. 7 and decided whether to approve a $69.9 million proposal that would construct a new high school, build an 8,000-square foot addition at East Elementary and make other upgrades.

It’s the only item on the ballot this fall. Last year, voters narrowly rejected an $87 million proposal to build a new high school and improve other facilities.

Some in attendance Wednesday said they rejected last year’s referendum because it was too broad and uncertain. But now they had an open mind, thanks to reduced cost and more concrete ideas for how to use the money.

“The first time, in my opinion, they didn’t have everything nailed down,” said town of Milton resident Larry Vordermann. “’This is what you’re getting for your money.’ I didn’t see that at the time.”

Tony and Jenny Ray, who live in the city of Milton, had similar views. Last year was too much money and not enough information to get them to vote in favor, they said.

“A lot of billboards, a lot of this stuff that cost money,” said Tony, holding a brochure distributed Wednesday. “But no one actually answering the questions. They’re all saying, ‘This is a good thing, this is a good thing.’ But I never found validated information to swing my vote toward a yes.”

Vordermann and the Rays all voted against the $87 million referendum. But they all had an open mind this year, provided they get enough answers from the district to quell their doubts.

Wednesday’s event was mostly informal. People could move between tables spread throughout the library and ask questions on different subtopics.

District Administrator Tim Schigur did give a presentation on the $69.9 million proposal. He said it would solve overcrowding issues and be fiscally responsible, echoing oft-repeated district talking points.

After his presentation, Schigur said people had asked him plenty of thoughtful questions. They seemed to feel more involved and more listened to in this year’s process, he said.

The district held a similar open house last year, and fewer than 20 people attended, Schigur said. He was proud of 2017’s turnout, where attendance was several times larger.

Cate Brunner and Charlie Walters, who live in the city of Milton, were fully supportive of the referendum. Wednesday did nothing to sway their opinions, but they felt it necessary to attend.

Last year, Brunner hesitated to support the facilities referendum. But she eventually voted in favor of it after learning the facts rather than listening to hearsay, she said.

“When you hear the dollar signs, and what they talked about everything floating around and the gossip … I thought the same thing,” she said. “When you hear the facts and you learn that it isn’t what the townspeople think it is, it does change your mind. It really does.”

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