Tuesday’s APS defeat was a statement from voters

Pundits and prognosticators much smarter than I now have the task in front of them to try and decipher the meaning of the vote this week regarding Alpena Public Schools’ bond request.

For what it’s worth, however, as I have sat and analyzed the lopsided results Tuesday, I trace the roots of the bond request’s failure back to Aug. 7 of last year. Two events happened that day that I believe had a profound impact on the school’s request.

On that day, Alpena County voters approved all the tax proposals before them, which included requests for county youth and recreation, two property tax proposals for older persons, veterans, and Alpena Community College. I believe that, in the years ahead, that date will become even more significant, as I believe it could very well mark the last time you ever will see that many requests all approved at the same time.

At the same time, to the south in Alcona County, was the first rejection by that county’s voters of a countywide request to replace lost revenue. While voters were adamant in their defeat of that request, they did approve four other requests — for 911 and Central Dispatch, the county library, ambulance services, and the Commission on Aging.

When I look back to Aug. 7, I believe that, overall across the region that day, voters were extremely generous. Perhaps too generous, and now some of them perhaps are having “buyer’s remorse.” At the same time, residents in Alcona County also displayed an independent streak proving that, unless residents agreed with the justification for a request, they weren’t going to blindly support it.

For Alpena County voters, their impressive support in August of last year followed their strong showing 10 months earlier, in November 2017, when they approved the county jail millage request. Looking at the results, no one would ever accuse county residents of not being generous.

The trouble is, were they too generous? Certainly, that thought has to have been running through school officials’ minds since Tuesday, especially when the school district’s request is contrasted to the jail request.

On Aug. 7, 2018, a total of nine tax increases spread between Alcona and Alpena counties were approved by generous voters. However, in Alcona County, residents had been indicating to commissioners before the election even occurred about spending priorities. Then, they drove those concerns home with defeat of the county government millage that day.

Commissioners came back in November with another request, hoping to alleviate budget cuts they had ready to implement. Again, though, residents defeated the request.

I see those results as strong statements that residents believed their elected officials were not taking their concerns seriously, thus they took matters into their own hands.

I suggested to Alpena school officials several months ago on this page that they should study Alcona County closely. I have no idea whether they did or not, and it really doesn’t matter. But I would urge other groups considering millage, such as the library’s upcoming renewal proposal, to talk with people in Alcona County and learn what happened. I believe that county provides an interesting learning opportunity that we should take advantage of.

As evidenced by the millages approved in August last year, voters will support proposals.

As evidenced by Alcona County and Alpena schools, however, they will not support all proposals.

In many ways, voters might be thinking they have done “their fair share” in recent years, and now it is time to keep some dollars in their own wallets and purses.

I urge Alpena school officials to let things settle, then go in and analyze carefully where the trouble was. What they discover will help them decide how to proceed. And it is possible — but not probable — that what they learn is to keep still and not rush into anything right away.

Tuesday’s vote wasn’t just a defeat. I believe it was a statement.

If I’m correct, then there is a lot of work and repair ahead for school officials.

Bill Speer can be reached at 989-354-3111, ext. 311, or bspeer@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @billspeer13.