Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Monday's public forum to inform citizens of all aspects of the Chestnut Street project adopted by the Vermillion City Council back in December of 2000 was valuable in many ways.

Both the city engineer and a consulting engineer involved in designing the street improvement gave a historical perspective on what exactly is involved in the project.

They helped dispel myths that have circulated throughout the community in recent months.

What was a bit perplexing, however, were statements made by some citizens at that meeting who believe that, at a time when the Vermillion School District is considering implementing a four-day school week and making severe budget cuts because of revenue shortfalls, the city shouldn't be thinking of spending $1.3 million to improve Chestnut Street.

The Chestnut Street project, which has been stalled for nearly 14 months, has had no negative effect on the school district's budget. The funding that's been gathered by the city to pay for the work is a mix of federal and state dollars, and a local contribution of approximately $600,000 of Vermillion's second penny sales tax.

The Vermillion School District and other public school districts across the state are in part funded locally not by sales taxes but by real estate taxes.

Another source of school funding is state aid to education dollars.

One could argue that inadequate state aid and the freeze in property taxes have contributed to the plight our public school is facing this year.

Bringing Chestnut Street into this negative picture is simply wrong. There is no commingling of city and school district dollars. The allocation of sales tax revenue toward the street project didn't deprive our public education system of one thing.

Ironically, however, not repairing Chestnut Street most certainly will deprive Vermillion from reaching its economic potential in the future.

And that will mean collections of real estate and sales taxes, used to fund the day-to-day operations of our school, city, county and other local entities, will always remain less than they potentially could be.

Why would we want to wish that sort of a future for ourselves?

The Vermillion School District is experiencing such a severe budget shortfall that it most likely will opt-out of the state property tax freeze.

The public response to such action likely will be a referendum so that voters ultimately will decide the fate of the school budget.

Vermillion Superintendent Bob Mayer and Business Manager Sheila DeSmet traveled to Brookings Tuesday to talk with school officials there. Brookings has successfully opted-out of the tax freeze to the tune of $750,000.

There's a big difference between Vermillion and Brookings, however. Brookings' valuation was $603 million in 2000-01, compared to Vermillion's $310 million. Currently, Vermillion's valuation stands at about $315 million.

Yes, $1.3 million is a lot of money to spend on Chestnut Street. But the street has been identified as a vital link in a farm-to-market route that has been developed in lower Vermillion.

Lower Vermillion is home to Vermillion Fertilizer and Grain, a business that farmers throughout the county rely on as a major market for fertilizer purchases and grain selling and shipping. Last year it experienced $11 million in gross sales, and we're confident that if Chestnut Street is improved, those figures will go up.

There are other important elements in lower Vermillion which are already playing or soon will fulfill a vital role in our quality of life � ranging from the railroad and the city's airport, to Cotton Park, a bike trail and a soon-to-be completed nature area.

Chestnut Street won't take anything away from any of those developments. It will enhance them.

That's why we feel it's important that the city stay the course on Chestnut Street. We feel it would be a big mistake for the Vermillion City Council to turn Chestnut into a sacrificial lamb and gut the project so it can spend money originally allocated to the street project on other needs in the city.

The city council should continue with what it started 14 months ago. It must fix the street according to original plans.

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