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Referendum foes in Frazee want new vote

If some Frazee-Vergas School District residents have their way, the excess operating levy referendum will be on the November ballot again.

Fourteen people gathered Sunday evening to start the petition process to get signatures for either revoking the referendum or reducing it to $500 per student, rather than the $1,000 that passed last fall.

"People are upset with increased taxes and possibly the loss of their home or farm," Oscar Birkeland said.

He said while some in the school district may try to dismiss the petition and efforts due to the names attached, he said the petition is the main concern, not those that got the petitions started.

As a side note, organizers are also petitioning to have an audit done.

"I want to know where my money is going," Viv Holmer said.

As for the petitions for reducing or revoking the referendum, the tax increase is the driving force behind it. But that's not all, either.

"I want it in a year when we're voting for president," Holmer said of having the referendum question on the November ballot.

Gill Gigstead added that he wants it on a ballot when all the polling locations are open, rather than just three like last fall. He said that would make it easier for voters to get out and voice their opinions.

The first step in the petition -- after having them legally drawn up by a lawyer -- is getting signatures. According to state statute, the petition must have 15 percent -- or 668 signatures -- of registered voters of the district. This attempt is only allowed one time.

"Enough signatures to get it on the Nov. 4 ballot -- that is the only plan we have," Gigstead said.

The petitions state the reason for the petition is that the referendum is "causing great hardship on many of the District's citizens. Property tax valuations have risen dramatically in the past year and when this is coupled with the additional tax of the Referendum, many citizens real estate taxes have excessively increased in amount."

With the reduction or revocation, "this would simply mean that the Frazee/Vergas School Board would need to adjust their spending habits to fall in line with the revenue income that it currently receives."

Holmer said she got involved with the cause because she was unhappy with the way the district went about passing the referendum. She said the scare tactics used, saying the school was going to close, wasn't what she wanted to hear, but rather why the money was needed and exactly what it was going to be used toward -- to give children a good education.

Neil Edwards said he is involved for another reason.

"It's not so much the money, but the disrespect," from the school board, he said.

The four agreed that it isn't just the Frazee-Vergas School District, but the state education system. When one school district starts something new (i.e. Smart Boards or laptops for students), the next district has to get the same product to keep up with the neighboring towns.

"This is taxation -- something we can say something about," Edwards said. "Something we can complain about legally."

Gigstead said while out collecting signatures, he found that the main concern of citizens has been those on a fixed income are wondering what to do financially, and worried about the possibility of losing their homes.

"They're running out of money," he said.

But, he added, it's not just older people worried about taxes, but those of all ages. He said one woman explained her situation perfectly: "One thousand dollars isn't much, unless you don't have it."

Birkeland said the group is asking for signatures on the two separate petitions, but there is even division among those circulating the petitions -- some want the reduction, some want the revocation.

"Getting signatures is one thing, and ballots is another thing. Revoke definitely wouldn't pass," he said.