Voters approved a utilities tax in the Fairview school district Tuesday in what Superintendent Bill Musick called “the biggest upset in political history since 1948, when Harry Truman beat Dewey.”
Unofficial totals show there were 549 votes in favor of keeping the tax, and 512 to repeal it; the result was unexpected in a community where two previous attempts to enact a utilities tax were defeated at the polls.
Musick was referring to the famous photograph of a jubilant Harry Truman holding the Chicago Tribune with the banner headline erroneously blaring “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” the day after winning the presidency.
Tax proponents in Westwood were just as jubilant after adding up the numbers. “I’m elated. This is the best thing that could ever happen to the school, the kids, this community and the members of this community,” board member Rick Tackett said.
“It’s a win for this whole community. We’re going to get us a school,” said board member Jeff Preston, charging into the high school gymnasium to slap Tackett and board president Scott McIntyre on the back.
The pro-tax campaign succeeded where others had failed because of the groundwork of volunteers, McIntyre said. “We had people in the community willing to go door to door. That’s all we wanted to do, get correct information out.”
Two open houses during which school officials pointed out building deficiencies also helped, Tackett said. “They decided they had to work for it.”
There is no firm plan yet, but the board has visions of a completely renovated high school and a new middle school to replace the current one in the 50-year-old Renfroe building.
“I’ve worked here six years with these children; I’ve seen them cross the street in cold and rain and sit with drips in the ceiling, and their test scores are still strong. We have a perfect graduation rate in spite of the defects,” said middle school teacher Alysa Miller, tears squeezing from her eyes. “I’m so thankful they are going to get what they deserve.”
Support for the tax initially was shaky. But momentum started to shift about two weeks ago when people started calling and asking pointed questions about the tax and how it would be collected, Musick said.
The 3 percent tax is to be levied on all utility bills, including electric, gas, water, sewer, telephone, cell phone and cable. Some voters initially thought the total collected would be higher.
The board enacted it in late December but opponents circulated petitions to put it on the ballot.
The final hour of voting was busy, and voters were vocal about their support or opposition, some of them willing to stand in ae cutting cold wind to discuss their opinions.
“With the property tax above the state average, I’m voting yes (to repeal),” said Brian Abernathy. If property taxes were lower he’d be more likely to support a utilities tax, he said.
Cathy Murphy and her daughter Andrea Murphy both said they were voting no, which meant voting against repeal. “I don’t care to spend a little more on my electric bill if it will help the school,” Cathy Murphy said.
“I graduated from this school and my kids go here. I love this community and I would hate for the school to leave,” Andrea Murphy said. She has a kindergartner and a third-grader at Fairview Elementary.
“I voted yes and I have the last two times before,” said Leeda Hudson, who has a daughter in kindergarten at Fairview. Hudson said funding should come from other sources.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2652.