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Yankton Divided Over Opt Out Vote

May 17, 2011, 6:01 PM by Katie Janssen

Yankton Divided Over Opt Out Vote
YANKTON, SD - Raising property taxes to pay for schools is dividing voters in one KELOLAND city.

One week from Tuesday, Yankton voters will decide on a property tax opt out that could raise $40 million over 10 years, and it's become a contentious issue.

It's what the governor said he wanted when he proposed major budget cuts to education: communities to decide on tax increases, not the state. But people in town say the opt out vote in Yankton has polarized the community, and it may only get worse in the days to come.

Signs for and against the opt-out are popping up all around Yankton, as both groups use this last week to get voters' attention. The school district is asking for more than $4 million a year for up to 10 years to make up for state funding shortfalls.

Charles Murphy, known as "Murph," is leading the group Citizens for Sustainable Education, which is against the proposal.

"I think the only one with an opt out anywhere close to it is Sioux Falls at $2 million, and there's a big difference in size, population," Murphy said.

On the other side of the issue is Jon Flom with the Yes for Kids group.

"It's a jewel of a school system and what we need to do to maintain it the way it is, we should do," Flom said.

District officials have already made drastic cuts, and Flom doesn't want to see any more.

"Contracts not renewed for more than 20 teachers.  A lot of other personnel like librarians who will not have contracts renewed.  Middle school activities that are not scheduled to be held at all," Flom said.

But Murphy says those planning to vote "no" are only asking for another solution.

"What we'd like to see is if there's any way we can save money,” Murphy said. “We aren't against the kids; I've got four grandkids here. Not against the kids; I've raised five kids here."

Another factor in the fight is the “vote no” group has hired an outside consultant from Iowa to help in their campaign. His name is Paul Dorr, and he's bringing some controversy.

"People from other communities verbally communicated to us things about him; he's very difficult to deal with," Flom said. "Manipulating data and facts to make his case seem stronger."

"They're really trying to assassinate him. If you look on the internet, you'll see he's worked other places and what they say about him," Murphy said. "I've never worked with a finer guy, never have."

Murphy and Flom say these last few days are going to be critical, and voters can expect to hear more from both sides.

"Only truthful, only truthful.  Everything we put out here in the next week is simply the truth," Murphy said.

"We were hoping we'd go down to the wire and continue to keep it as a disagreement," Flom said. "When you intrude an element like that, then it becomes something different."

The opt-out would raise homeowners' taxes almost $200 a year on a $100,000 home.

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