Our Views: Spring elections vitally important

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

We have three words for Janesville residents who seldom or never vote in spring elections: proposed fire station.

Imagine being among the homeowners whom the city might force out to make way for an expanded Fire Station No. 1. Picture having to uproot your family, alter your lifestyle, and forget the time and energy you invested into making that house a home—after your elected city representatives decided in a closed meeting to build a new station near the current site and kept that plan secret for months.

If it could happen to these people, might the city’s next move affect you?

About half of eligible voters go to the polls when we elect presidents. They feel a sense of civic duty to help choose our country’s leaders. But with tens of millions cast, how likely is it that your single vote will make a difference? In contrast, a handful or even a single vote can make the difference in a local election.

Few people, however, take the time to learn about the issues and candidates in spring elections, when we choose municipal and county leaders and school board members. The spring election is just over a week away. It’s Tuesday, April 1. Sadly, Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler projects that only between 16 percent and 19 percent of eligible people will vote, and she’s thinking that turnout will be closer to the lower end of that range. Weather will play a big factor in vote totals.

Yet those we elect will decide how often we repair and plow streets. They will decide whether a new pool or bike trail gets built, where businesses can locate, how much you’ll pay in property taxes and whether you’ll face new wheel taxes, trash collection and school fees. They might decide whether the fairgrounds move and even whether your pooch is allowed in your neighborhood park.

The Janesville League of Women Voters earns applause for creating a short new video at gazettextra.com/womenvoters that emphasizes such points and the importance of local elections. Check it out.

Do you know the candidates who will be on the April 1 ballot? Do you know if your school district is posing a referendum to boost spending or build a school?

If not, you still have time to bone up. Wednesday’s Gazette will include a special election section detailing candidates, issues and referendums. The section also will be available online.

In Janesville, five candidates seek three seats on the school board. Four candidates seek three spots on the Janesville City Council. Candidate forums in both races have occurred. You can read The Gazette’s related stories online. Videotapes also are online.

The biggest area school referendum is a two-parter in the Parkview District. The largest question asks voters for $17 million to swap, renovate and expand the schools in Orfordville. That would create a new junior high/high school at the current elementary school and a renovated elementary school out of the existing junior high/high school. The primary school in Footville would close. Question 2 seeks $350,000 for each of the next three years to pay for operating expenses.

Take time to learn about the issues and candidates. Remember, every vote counts in local elections. Don’t be like the guy in the above cartoon. Don’t ignore your civic responsibility until some elected official plans to take your home.

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