After everything that happened last Wednesday, you might say I was a little upset. Well, actually, I was extremely frustrated.
Two issues that directly affect the children of our community had me shaking my head in disappointment.
The first issue deals directly with the state's involvement in our schools, or more to the point the lack of involvement. The leaky roof at Hacker Middle School last Wednesday was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back because it should never have happened in the first place.
Not that the state legislature really seems to care about rural districts like ours. For years, they set up public education to fail and then declared that it was a "broken system," which wasn't that way before they started "fixing" it.
But somehow, it allowed them to justify deeper cuts in education and a revision of the entire educational structure that from an outside observer seemed to make no sense.
In the end, we ended up with fewer dollars to make needed repairs like the roof at the middle school, which the school district has made clear was desperately needed. It finally took the support of local voters to make those repairs happen.
And it didn't end there. Let's not forget what happened in 2013 when those same lawmakers pushed to cut back on the state's personal property taxes.
That plan would've save businesses, farmers and ranchers in Elmore County nearly $3.8 million a year in tax breaks. However, it would've put a huge hurt on local residents to make up for that lost revenue.
What bothers me the most is that when those budget cuts to the state's education budget began, rural school districts like Mountain Home felt those budget cuts almost from the start. Meanwhile, larger districts like the ones in the Treasure Valley didn't start feeling the pinch until a few years later.
The perception that I'm seeing is our lawmakers finally wised up and started putting money toward education -- once it became a problem in the school districts in Ada and Canyon counties. Did they forget that Idaho's borders extend beyond both counties?
The other issue that had me frustrated is the perceived attitude involving some representatives of a concerned citizens group that's trying to dissolve the Western Elmore County Recreation District. Last week, I learned by chance that the group had submitted its signatures to get the measure added to the ballot in time for the May elections.
After everything that happened with their effort to get this on the ballot this fall, I figured someone would've at least tipped us when they turned everything in. Maybe I was wrong since I never got a phone, an e-mail or had someone come visit my office.
As soon as I found out, I sent out a message to one of the representatives asking to meet to outline their goals if they succeed. What I received was a very curt response that basically told me that they didn't want to speak to this newspaper.
I really wished they had handled this differently. If they had simply said that they were not at liberty to comment that this time, I would've understood and moved on.
What also concerns me is the response I received seemed to send a mixed message from the district's loudest critics.
Case in point: For years, these people have accused the recreation district of trying to hide information and were showing no signs of being "transparent" in how they handled business. When that same group declines to speak to the city's newspaper after repeated attempts to contact them, that's a concern.
These critics have also accused the recreation district of mismanaging taxpayer dollars and squandering it on things they felt weren't needed. The two best examples involve a $500 photo and the tens of thousands of dollars invested in various studies conducted over the years.
However, the perception is that they don't have a problem if current construction on the facility comes to an abrupt end just weeks after ground was officially broken. It's anticipated that move could drain a significant amount of money from the district's budget. That's money that could support a whole lot of youth programs in this community, by the way.
And if the effort to dissolve the recreation district does succeed, then what? To this day, I've never had anyone provide a satisfactory answer to that question.
While some people might be convinced they'll get their money back if the district goes away, I believe the Mountain Home News has made it abundantly clear over the years that taxpayers won't get a refund. Not a dime.
Instead, the county commissioners will decide where that money goes. It doesn't even have to stay within city limits, either. As long as it fits the definition of "recreation program" within the boundaries of western Elmore County, that's where that money will go.
After that, it's all over.
There will be no community recreation center for our kids. No after school programs for teens. Nothing.
Keep that in mind if the petition comes to a vote this coming May.
Overall, it's the angry, sometimes hostile approach being used by the recreation district critics that I have a problem with. Instead of approaching this calmly and rationally, I'm seeing cases where people are being maliciously attacked regarding their position with the recreation district, either for or against it.
This is not how people are supposed to resolve their differences. I find the best way is to meet face to face and talk things out. Raw emotion and poor behavior only make things worse and are simply not productive.
Before I take this a step further, let me emphasize that I get it,
OK? I understand both positions regarding the recreation district, loud and clear.
Many people in this town want to build a community recreation center in this town geared for children and adults as well. Others are sick and tired of waiting and want to see something else happen with their tax dollars. But let's approach this rationally and try to take emotion out of the equation.
French writer Voltaire once said, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it." This is how we should approach issues like this -- to allow everyone to speak on a professional level to find common ground.
Who knows? Maybe someone will bring up something truly ingenious that might lead to the breakthrough both sides want -- a compromise in which everyone gets a little something.
In the end, I think we can all agree that we want something that ultimately benefits all the children of Mountain Home -- something that provides them a safe, structured environment they and their families can afford. After all, aren't we supposed to be doing things to help our children?
-- Brian S. Orban