Philomath voters showed overwhelming support for local education through the renewal of the school district’s operating levy for another five years.
The Benton County Elections Office’s unofficial results Tuesday night showed the levy renewal, known as Measure 2-119 on the ballot, passing by a 71-29 margin. The latest results released at 10:23 p.m., showed 1,897 “yes” votes and 787 “no” votes.
“I didn’t expect the margin to be so big,” said Philomath School Board member Shelley Niemann. “I’m extremely grateful for our school district and especially happy for our kids that we can maintain the level of service that we’ve provided over the past five years.”
Jim Kildea, Philomath School Board chair, had a similar reaction.
“I think Philomath just really supports its schools,” he said. “I think when this was put on the ballot the first time, it was something new, something they hadn’t heard before. I think seeing the results and how well the school has been doing and how well it helps the kids is important. Philomath always stands by its schools and helps the schools.”
The current levy, approved in 2013 by a slim 53-47 margin, expires June 30.
With its passage, the levy will raise approximately $650,000 in 2018-19, $670,000 in 2019-20, $690,000 in 2021-21, $715,000 in 2021-22 and $735,000 in 2022-23 or a total of $3.5 million. The current levy rate does not increase with renewal.
Camille Storch, organizer and treasurer of the political action committee “Support Philomath Schools,” wasn’t sure what to expect with that close vote in 2013.
“It passed by a pretty slim margin so that was concerning, but this was a renewal and not a new tax,” Storch said. “I think that made it easier for people to get behind.”
Both Niemann and Storch said they really didn’t have a good feel for how the community might vote.
“I knew that a renewal was more likely to pass than a first-time go-around with a levy, but I didn’t think any of us expected the margin to be this high,” Niemann said. “We did work hard on promoting it — the political action committee was only made up of a few people but there were some others who also helped with support.”
Said Storch, "I saw it go around on Facebook quite a bit in the last week and I got a little bit nervous — have we really done enough? Have we gone out far and wide enough? It seems like it reached the right people.”
Niemann and Kildea both mentioned the importance of contributions from the Oregon School Employees Association, Philomath Education Association and Oregon Education Association.
“We definitely couldn’t have done it without them, I would say because their funding allowed us to make that video that we made through Silverman Studios here in Philomath … it allowed us to do the mailers we sent out to all registered voters in the district and we also were able to hand out informational flyers at all of our community talks like Rotary and chamber.”
The three organizations brought in $6,300 in contributions, including $5,500 alone through the OSEA’s Education and Labor Advocacy Fund.
“They came through with a lot of support with funding. That helped tremendously as being able to make the video and for the materials, it really helped having some funding to take care of that,” Kildea said.
Storch said the main message was to let voters know that their taxes would stay the same. But she also believes local residents just really want to support the schools.
“Everybody knows a teacher that they love and the operating levy is mostly about the teaching staff and coaches and activities and whatnot. I think those are things that parents of kids in school and my parents’ generation that have had a kid go through Philomath schools, they can remember and they support that.
“I’m proud of Philomath today.”
Kildea had nice words for both Niemann and Storch.
“I’ve got to say, Shelley Niemann did an awful lot of work on this … she did the bulk of the work,” Kildea said. “She did a great job and Camille helped, too. The political action committee was pretty small but did great at getting the word out about continuing to support our schools.”
Now, the school district’s budget committee working on the next fiscal year’s numbers can breathe a little easier.
“It will allow us to move forward without having to make some tough decisions that we would have had to otherwise face,” Niemann said. “There’s a lot of good things to come for the district and I’m looking forward to being a part of that.”
The City of Philomath also had five measures on the ballot involving the annexation of 22 properties and all of them were easily passing. The effort was an attempt to rid the city of various islands, follow through on delayed agreements and help solve a longstanding issue with a landowner who has long wanted access to utilities.
The following were voted upon and showed these unofficial results as of 8 p.m. Tuesday:
· 501, 529 and 615 Main St. (Measure 2-114) passing 954 to 209, or by an 82-18 margin.
· Properties along Landmark Drive (Measure 2-115) passing 918 to 237, or by an 79-21 margin.
· 3157 Main St. (Measure 2-116) passing 935 to 209, or by an 82-18 margin.
· Three undeveloped properties on the north end of North Seventh Street (Measure 2-117) passing 894 to 265, or by a 77-23 margin.
· Nine properties on Cooper Lane (Measure 2-118) passing 928 to 222, or by an 81-19 margin.
Since the city is the applicant, the annexations were not subject to the law established by Senate Bill 1573, thus, they appeared on the ballot.
The Benton County Election Office’s counts are unofficial and will next proceed through the certification process.