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Polls busy as Frazee-Vergas residents vote on operating levy

Polling places have been busy today in the Frazee-Vergas School District, where voters will decide the fate of a $1 million per year, five-year operating levy referendum.

Poll workers said they have seen heavy voter traffic since opening at noon. Polls close at 8 p.m. at the three district precincts at the Frazee elementary school, Vergas Community Center and Height-of Land Town Hall.

People on both sides of the issue expect a close race, judging by interviews with voters on Tuesday. Several people who said they planned to vote "no" declined interviews or were not comfortable commenting publicly.

"I'd like to see it pass," said Don Peichel of rural Frazee. "I haven't heard the negativeness of past times (This is the fifth time the issue has come to a vote). It's fairly quiet down at the café ... If it doesn't pass, it will closer than it ever has been. Some of my friends that were against it have been coming around.

"As the school goes, so goes the town," Peichel added. "Positive people built this and negative people can tear it down."

"I think it's going to go down (to defeat)," said Jerry Simonson of Shell Lake. "It's too much money ... I think they can better appropriate the money they have to do a better job."

"It better go through -- finally," said Chuck Mann of Cotton Lake. "I'm for it 100 percent. It will raise my taxes a lot, but somebody paid for my schooling..."

Jim and Louise Pace of rural Frazee support the referendum.

"We want it to pass," she said. "Because we raised seven kids and they all went to this school, and we have two grandkids in this school now."

The district has had to make $2.5 million in cuts and lay off a number of teachers, and that's beginning to show in the quality of education, she said. "There have been some cuts that have been hurting the kids -- especially this year," she said. "We don't want to see it get in so much trouble that it closes."

"We don't want to see programs cut," Jim added.

The community seems to be about evenly split on the issue, said Alice Wirth of Frazee.

"I think it will pass," she said. "They've really been campaigning, and they've lost a lot of pupils here -- people are aware of that."

"I worry if it doesn't pass, what's going to happen," said Grace Blaine of Frazee. "Someone had to pay for our education ... There's a lot of older people here who can't afford it -- that's the whole thing."

"I hope it passes, even though it raises my taxes," said Paul Adams, a construction worker who lives in Silver Leaf Township. "There ain't nobody stepping up to the plate no more -- the government can't keep us all afloat, local taxpayers have got to step up, at least that's how I see it."

With a seventh-grader (Noah) in Frazee, Stewart Kitzmann says he has little choice but support the referendum.

""He loves it and will stay as long as I put him there," he said of his son. "Just based on what he's told me, based on what's going on at the school, we need it ... several programs they have cut he would likely be involved in."

But Kitzmann had no predictions on which way the vote would go.

"It's hard to get a pulse on this area," he said outside the Height-of-Land Town Hall.

Jim and Jean Navara of Little Toad Lake also support the referendum, but Jim had doubts that it would pass.

"I'm a little concerned about it myself," Jim said. He worked as a business professor at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks for 45 years and is a strong believer in education.

Jean, who worked in administration at UND for 18 years, was more optimistic that voters would approve the measure.

"It's important that it passes for the kids," she said.