It’s not enough in a tax-averse community like North Platte to expect voters will simply accept what public officials put before them.
There has to be a critical mass of citizens actively campaigning for it, too.
The lack of such a citizens’ campaign — let alone an active marketing effort — is the main similarity between the last two unsuccessful ballot questions put before voters in North Platte.
School district leaders did engage in some public outreach to try to convince enough patrons to redirect part of the expiring high school bond tax to complete “safety and security” projects more quickly.
They did more outreach, in fact, than city leaders did in 2018 in proposing a half-cent sales tax — one out-of-town visitors also would have paid — dedicated to more quickly tackling the city’s long list of infrastructure fix-it projects.
But the result was the same. Voters weren’t convinced. And they said “no.”
It doesn’t matter that city and school leaders had logical arguments on their side, ones this newspaper supported in urging approval of both measures.
The trouble is that the people with titles in front of their names were the only ones speaking about them.
That doesn’t work in this town.
Let’s look at the other major ballot question to come before local voters recently: Lincoln County voters’ 2018 decision to expand the County Board from three commissioners to five.
County voters agreed that time to actually spend thousands of dollars more in property taxes on salaries and benefits for the new County Board members in Districts 4 and 5.
And yet, one might say, the North Platte voters among them refused to shift part of their property tax burden to out-of-towners (the sales tax vote) or approve something that — for once — didn’t raise property taxes (the school vote).
If you think that doesn’t make sense, we’d say you’re right.
So why would they actually agree to raise taxes in the county vote?
Well, that one came from the people.
A citizen proposed it, got others to support it, got the petition signatures to put it on the ballot and then got enough voters to go along.
The safety and air-quality projects in the defeated school “levy override” likely will be done in time. The mail-in election was about how to fund them.
But it’ll take years longer to finish them with only a limited, lid-capped building fund — just as the city infrastructure projects will take longer without the half-cent sales tax defeated in 2018.
A citizens’ campaign isn’t a guarantee that a ballot question will win. There were citizens’ groups that campaigned for the North Platte High School bond issues in the 1990s, which didn’t succeed until the fourth try.
But if officials don’t even try to put together a citizens’ group, people in this town are most likely to do what they just did again: Listen (maybe), keep their mouths shut (at least in public forums) and vote “no.”
Citizens’ groups can do one thing local governments aren’t empowered to do: They can fund and pursue active advertising and marketing campaigns on radio and TV and in publications like ours.
Local officials are limited to holding informational forums, which both the city and school district did on their respective ballot questions (though the schools did many more).
But there’s no such thing as too much publicity, especially in an age when people have so many unwanted and preferred distractions competing for attention.
There’s at least one more ballot question likely to face local voters in the next year. That’s renewal of the Quality Growth Fund, which diverts a small part of city sales taxes — and only when annual collections go up — to help with economic development efforts like the streetscape part of downtown renovations.
QGF has to be renewed every 10 years, and that time is at hand. Citizens’ groups were involved in previous campaigns. They need to be again.
Logic isn’t enough to convince voters. Neither are official public forums. Even editorials in newspapers aren’t enough.
You need neighbors talking to neighbors as well.
If there’s a lesson to relearn from North Platte’s last two elections, that’s the most obvious one.