In an editorial published on Wednesday, January 11, a writer expressed, “I couldn’t understand how Mr. Jaeger [President of the Merrill School Board] could vote to close Pine River Elementary. Even though both of his children go there and he did at one time.” I haven’t checked these facts, but I’m sure the author did her homework. After reading this, I felt the need to express gratitude to Mr. Jaeger, not for closing the school (because as a future Pine River parent I wish it could remain open too), but for his apparent selfless act. Merrill needs School Board Members like Mr. Jaeger who vote with personal interests aside, and the best interests of Merrill’s students at heart.
It must have been difficult for Mr. Jaeger to vote to close Pine River Elementary when he had such personal ties to the school. The vote was obviously based on what he believed was best for all of Merrill’s students – although it may not have been the best choice for his own kids at the moment, or his property value, or the audience sitting in front of him. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Jaeger’s vote, you have to respect that it wasn’t for his own personal gain – in fact, with it, he seemed to take a great deal of personal loss.
I attended parts of the January 4th and January 11th board meetings, and at these meetings speakers spoke passionately for their causes. It was heartbreaking listening to all that may be potentially lost in our district. Speakers frequently insisted that School Board Members needed to listen to their community members before voting. I agree that elected officials need to listen to their constituents to gain knowledge and ideas, but I hope that they vote their consciences. While community members are often speaking for one or two issues, board members are charged with looking at a larger picture. As a teacher, I can assure you that some of MAPS quietest whispers require and are worthy of attention.
Voters beware of electing one-issue board members. Even if you presently agree with the one-issue, you may disagree with the next. Instead, elect the knowledgeable, fair-minded candidate who has the integrity needed to care for everyone’s children. Unfortunately, board members receive little thanks and lots of criticism. These are likely reasons candidate numbers remain sparse. If you know a person who embodies the above characteristics, please encourage them to run for the school board. It would be great to see a long list of people willing to serve Merrill’s youth. I was disappointed to hear that Mr. Jaeger won’t be running again. I would like to thank him for stepping up into the Presidency when he was needed most. While I haven’t agreed with all of his votes, I respect their selfless origins. As we watch upcoming debates and editorials, let’s look for board candidates with integrity rather than 1 or 2 issues. Thank you.
The county’s Public Property Committee has yet again changed its position on whether to charge user groups for the use of the county’s Fairgrounds. The Committee’s original, no lease charge for the Fair Board-now Fair Association went to a proposed $2,000 for the month of July lease under Option III, but is now back to no lease charge at all. The Rodeo Association went from an approximate lease fee of $1,650. in 2011 to a proposed $700 lease fee under Option III to no lease fee. Lessees have and would continue to cover utilities.
Some of the current user groups (Animal Market & Show, American Cancer Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity, Boy Scouts of American, Good New Church Computer Recycling, and the Republican Party) would have actually seen a decrease in their lease fees under Option III, while some groups (Merrill Riders, Merrill Park & Recreation, 4-H Horse Project, 4-H Dog Program, Kelly’s Concessions, Merrill High School Float Building, and the Merrill Historical Society Old Schoolhouse Tours) would have seen an increase. The Committee has now decided that since various user groups are staffed by volunteers that are also taxpayers, they should not have to pay for a county facility’s use.
Granted, comparing large income generating lesees like the Fair Board-now Fair Association to simple user groups such as the 4-H Dog Program or Horse Project is comparing oranges to apples. No one expects blood from a turnip. Conversely, if some user groups are generating hundreds of thousands of dollars through their use of the Fairgrounds, that use can also help pay for the added costs of maintaining the facility.
Throughout the confusing process, no one has yet to address how Fairground maintenance costs that always fall back onto the tax levy will be covered. Although the $22,000 maintenance budget for the Fairgrounds is small relative to the entire county budget, it represents that much less available for the county’s general maintenance costs. And, it will not even begin to cover upcoming Fairground renovation costs.
Everyone is focusing on what it will cost him or her personally. And although every user group, for profit or not, is arguably worthy, they represent a minority of groups, for profit or not, in the county at large. Perhaps it is time to consider selling the facility to one or more of the user groups. That way those who have complained about being micro-managed by the county will not have that barrier to their use of the Fairgrounds and it will generate some much-needed income for the county.
Diana C. Smith