‘All businesses in town are opposed to this thing…’ NOT

Oneonta school property tax

As the lines were drawn for and against Oneonta City Schools’ proposed 9-mil property tax increase, the statement was made in The Blount Countian that all businesses in town are opposed to it.

The morning the paper came out, a mini-firestorm of callers buffeted the newspaper office taking issue with the statement. We didn’t count them, but there were a bunch. Most were from business owners protesting that they would vote for the “Building the Legacy” proposal on election day, Feb. 20.

Would they mind being identified in a follow-up article correcting the impression created by the “all businesses are opposed” statement? Perhaps fearing their customers would react negatively, most all said yes, they would mind. They didn’t want to be identified as favoring the tax increase, even though they do. Two of the exceptions were owners who actually opposed the measure.

That led to the search for business owners who favor the “Building the Legacy” proposal, and don’t mind saying so on the record. Comments of some of them are summarized below – some short and sweet, some longer and more nuanced.

Mike Thompson, MT Homes, Inc.

“I’m not a resident of Oneonta – I live on Straight Mountain – I’m a home builder, and I own property and have other business interests in Oneonta, so I will be affected by the tax increase. Even though I can’t vote on it, I would vote for it if I could.”

Thompson then quickly summarized his reasons for favoring the proposed increase.

• His wife is a teacher (at Springville Elementary) and he well understands the need for additional funding for school systems generally.

• He has operated a successful home building business in Oneonta for 28 years. “A lot of my clients are coming to Oneonta because of the reputation of the school system. It has a big positive impact on the community, and that positive impact will continue on into the future as long as the school continues to stay strong.”

• He is a 1985 graduate of Oneonta High School and, as an alum, wants to support its tradition of excellence.

In a nutshell, he said that as a businessman, he supports meeting the school’s needs because (1) it favors the continuing success of his business, because, (2) partially through his wife, he is aware of the specifics of school funding needs and the impact of their insufficiency, and because (3) the school is his alma mater, and he wants it to continue to deliver excellence in education to the children of the city.

In a follow-up contact, Thompson said, though he supports the tax, and will pay his share of it if the proposal passes, he does have reservations about certain aspects of school and city policy. (1) Out-of-district fees should be raised within reason so out-of-district parents pay their fair share of school system costs, just as citizens of Oneonta will have to do. That would also lessen the draw of top-performing students out of the county school system, and would be fairer in that respect to them, he said. (2) “I also see it as an issue that involves city leadership – from the standpoint of supporting the school system as a part of overall economic development of the city.”

Lori Fendley, Traveling with the Mouse

“My main reason comes from my teaching experience at Oneonta until 2013, when I retired. A few years before that, Oneonta school lost funding and had to let several people go over a period of a few years. Two were special education teachers, one was an art teacher, two were Title 1 aides (reading for disadvantaged children), one library aide, an assistant band director and there might have been another one or two – 9 or 10 people in all, the best I remember. “ (Ed. All those jobs were sustained through local funding, and as overall state funding declined, local funding had to be diverted to other critical needs not met due to the funding loss.) “Special education is really struggling right now. That was my area, and I really feel strongly about supporting it. Those teachers and aides were like our perks for being a city system – extras that we had as a result of being a city system that many other systems don’t have. And now we don’t have them any more, either.

“People who complain about money going to athletics haven’t seen the condition of the fields. Like the track. It’s worn out. When it was built, it was paved. State regulations don’t even allow paved tracks any more. There’s never been enough funding to update athletic facilities. There’s no really adequate place for track kids to practice. And, now Oneonta can’t host meets because the track is not regulation, and so the benefit of that for the track students, the school, and the city is lost. “

Doyle Dailey, D’s Hair Styling

“My wife is a teacher at Oneonta. They need classrooms. They need a bigger bandroom. They can’t get enough money to do everything they need by just raising out-of-district fees. And they haven’t gotten as much as they need from the city. I don’t know of any other way to do it (except by increasing tax revenues) to get the funding they need. If the school’s needs aren’t met and its performance kept up, it’ll hurt the whole community.”

Kevin Faust, J&M Pharmacy and Compounding Center

”It (supporting the school property tax) was a very easy decision for me. I feel a strong school system strengthens the community and helps businesses stay strong. Besides having my business and property here, we have two children who go to Oneonta. Both my wife and I graduated from there. If we want the community to thrive and grow, the school system must thrive and grow. People may look at me and say, ‘well he just supports it because of his children.’ But, one of the main things that attracts people to this community and makes it grow is the school. This is not just for today and tomorrow, but for the long-term. It’s a vision for the future. “

Jeff Sherrer, Attorney – Brunson, Barnett, and

Sherrer has the last word. He had a little trouble getting started, but when he did, it was short, simple, and straight to the point. And it had a nice ending.

“I’m happy to say why I support it (the tax proposal). Candidly… (pause)… because… (longer pause)… (in a rush) Well, I graduated from there. My mother spent most of her professional career teaching there. She is the smartest person I know, and I rely on her completely for advice on everything having to do with education.

(Afterthought) “Besides, it’s a small price to pay for our children.”