The Tonawanda News
When property owners in the Royalton-Hartland School District received their school tax bills late last summer, nearly all of them were taken by surprise by a new line item that indicated the district’s (read “taxpayers’ ”) financial support for the Middleport Free Library, forever adopting it as its ward. That unexpected surcharge, which ranged from $25 to $45 for most households in the community, created an outpouring of ire, as numerous callers to the local talk radio show voiced their frustration over the tax and its sly installment. It remained a recurring topic on that show, and in local diners, for weeks.
Nobody was happy. Well, almost nobody. There were a few (164 to be exact) who were. More than likely, they did not represent the typical make-up of the voting population and were instead the friends of the library who originally called for the district’s funding of the establishment and who seemingly were the only people (other than the dozen “nay” votes) aware of the districtwide vote that occurred in June, just a few weeks after the school district’s annual budget vote. (Which begs the question: Why wasn’t the funding issue offered as a ballot item during the regular vote?)
It’s that sense of not knowing that so confounds district taxpayers — yours truly included — even to this day. We feel hoodwinked by two organizations — a school and a library — that pride themselves on educating people and, no pun intended, doing things by the book. The school district did a poor job of educating the masses on the library funding issue, a relative game-changer for the Roy-Hart culture and future tax obligations. The “why” and “how” of the new tax should have been presented to the public in the district newsletter, on its website, or in the local newspaper. The closest that it came to any of those were some legal notices in the classifieds of the Lockport Union Sun & Journal. But, the legal notice featured a header regarding the Middleport Library, not the Royalton-Hartland school district. With such a misleading title, most taxpayers overlooked the notice, figuring it didn’t affect them. How wrong we were.
In the months since, whilst the disgruntled electorate mostly surrendered (figuring this to be a done deal and a losing battle), Mary Cedeno has led a trio of vocal advocates — rounded out by Judy Hill and Michael Miano — who have tirelessly fought (by pursuing numerous legal angles) to bring about a re-vote, one where the entire district could be adequately informed about the issue and make the appropriate vote, be it a yes or a no. They understand that the vote could go either way and they would even be fine with a “yes” vote. It’s the principal of the matter: They want the vote to be conducted on the up-and-up. The aforementioned trio has been heading up a petition drive in recent weeks and will be leading a rally calling for a re-vote at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Royalton-Hartland High School, just prior to the school board’s regular meeting.
Make it a point to come out if you’d like to call upon what has become the rarely used power of local control — your vote — that was so keenly recognized in the formation of our Constitutional Republic and once widely utilized. That’s the whole crux of their efforts and the support of others who still care about the issue. In this modern era of misguided governance in which the vast federal government rules the roost with almost no input from the citizenry, important local issues need to be presented in a manner that allows voters to participate and make their voice heard in an appropriate and educated manner. The library tax is one of those very rare issues where it should be. We can’t allow the book to be closed on local control. If it is, you’ll find there won’t be a happy ending.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at email@example.com.