Voter Rebuff Forces Cuts

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Voters defeated the budget override to fund Payson schools on Tuesday, leaving school officials and newly elected board members to deal with what could be a $400,000 budget cut next school year.

Shot down by 424 votes, 52 percent of voters opposed renewing the district’s $1.4 million maintenance and operations budget override. The money will phase out by one-third in the next school year and another third the year after that.

However, the district will likely try again next year, said Superintendent Casey O’Brien. He speculated that the 66 percent turnout spurred by the presidential election could have factored into the defeat. “High turnout — in some cases, that can work against school districts,” he said.

Just under 31 percent of registered voters cast ballots when the first override was approved in 2004 by 65 percent.

Advocates of the override also said the bad economy coupled with rising property taxes could have contributed to the measure’s failure. The wording was also suspect for advocates who said uninformed voters might have thought the district was asking for a new override instead of just a continuation.

Tuesday night, during the election, voters weighed in about the override. “It’s time for government to back off and make do with what they have,” said local resident Jane Evans.

Voter Coral Loyd, who home schools her children, said she felt it unfair to pay more money when she doesn’t utilize the schools.

Resident Dell Bohlmeyer said he is a former educator and believes it important to vote for things that “improve the quality of life of ordinary people,” which includes education.

“It is not a tax increase,” he said. “That I don’t think was made clear enough to the public.”

The override helps support elementary physical education, school nurses and librarians. O’Brien said specific cuts won’t be suggested until after meetings and a thorough examination of the budget.

However, stuck in the depths of the $700 billion federal bailout bill, was a provision to fully fund the Secure Rural Schools Act that provides funding for counties with large amounts of federal land within their boundaries.

The county will collect $2 million from the federal government for schools in January, but it has yet to determine how to apportion the money. However, Payson will likely receive some of that money.

Nevertheless, newly elected board members Barbara Underwood, Richard Meyer and Matt Van Camp could have to make tough decisions.

“We obviously have a significant challenge before us. But we shall prevail and what’s important shall be retained,” Meyer said.

“In my experience, I have found that there are always things that can be reduced or curbed or delayed or postponed.”

Defeated candidate Buzz Walker, along with Underwood, was one of the three-member committee that worked to pass the override.

Both Walker and Underwood said the override’s defeat was “unbelievable.”

When asked if he thought the committee’s small size affected the override’s outcome, Walker said, “Come on. Do you need a committee to see if you want to breathe air tomorrow?”

He added, “I think it’s sad if you have to be sold on supporting one of your most basic, local functions.”

Underwood said the override’s defeat rendered her school board campaign victory bittersweet and Van Camp said perhaps voters need more education on the override’s importance.

Underwood won 32.6 percent of the vote, Van Camp 25.4 percent, Meyer 21.4 percent, and Walker 20.2 percent.

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