Voter turnout appeared to be steady throughout the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area Thursday as residents cast their ballots in the Appoquinimink School District's second referendum attempt in three months.
Yet poll workers at several of the 11 voting sites in the area reported seeing fewer voters today than during the district's unsuccessful referendum attempt Feb. 28.
Nearly 8,000 residents of the district cast their ballots in that referendum, with 58 percent voting against the measure which sought to raise $24.35 million over the next four years, most of which would have come from a gradual increases that would have hike the current tax rate of $1.60 per $100 of assessed value to $1.95 by 2017.
Today's referendum seeks a one-time, 15-cent increase in tax rate, which would raise an additional $2.79 million per year, or $11.16 million by 2017.
District officials say they also plan to save another $950,000 next year, through a variety of spending cuts and the temporary closure of Townsend Elementary and the Appoquinimink Early Childhood Center next year.
"I wasn't for it last time, but I voted for this one," said Paul Christian, who voted at the Townsend Early Childhood Center. "I thought the one in February was excessive, but I think the district has done a lot to save some money and meet taxpayers half way this time around."
Bob and Pat Wilson, who voted at Meredith Middle School, also said they supported the current referendum, despite voting against the February's proposed tax increase.
"The first one, I thought, was a little high, but this one seems better, especially given the economy today," Bob said. "The Appoquinimink School District was the best in the state when we moved here in 2000, and we'd like to see it be that again."
Voters like John Guy, meanwhile, said they were not interested in supporting any tax increase, regardless of its size.
"The feds want more and more and the state wants more and more," he said after voting against the measure at the Marion Proffitt Training Center. "This may be the only platform we have where we can show our protest and say no more."
Debra Lavender, who voted in Townsend, agreed.
"We pay enough taxes, yet it seems to keep going up and up and no one is trying to conserve and then you find out later that they've overspent or someone is stealing money," she said. "They say that without this referendum they're going to cut extracurricular activities, but my feeling is that parents should be paying for that out of pocket. The schools are there to educate people, not to give them a place to play football or basketball."
Calvin Solomon, who voted at Brick Mill Elementary School, said he thinks providing a better education for his son is worth the extra $132 a year the average property owner would pay in taxes under the proposed rate hike.
Page 2 of 2 - "You have to give something up to get a good education," he said. "If taxes have to go up, I think making sure class sizes don't increase is a good reason."
Alice Smith, who voted in Odessa, agreed.
"No one wants taxes to increase, but that's how schools get funded," she said. "I think this is an excellent district, and I supported the referendum because I want them to be able to continue offering the programs they have now."