Three Rivers tax measure passes with 71% of vote

By Reggie Ellis

Three Rivers voters overwhelmingly passed a parcel tax measure to help the community's aging Memorial Building on June 7. Measure C, an annual property tax assessment of $23 per parcel, passed with 71.7% of the vote.

About $3 per parcel of the annual tax will be paid to the county for collecting the tax. Bill Tidwell, president of the Three Rivers Memorial District's board of directors, said the district will not see any of the tax revenue until January.

"We will postpone any repairs until then," Tidwell said. "Given the age of the building it is in good condition but there are things that need to be fixed."

Tidwell said one of the district's priorities is to fix the tile floors that are breaking and loose in the building built in 1958. That project will probably cost approximately $20,000 as there is asbestos under the tiles. The district had recently spent $20,000 to replace two heater/AC units and the entire interior water system at the same time they saw a large increase for fire/liability insurance. The building's electrical wiring is also old and needs to be upgraded for safety. "More energy efficient lighting would also help us save money in the long term," he said.

Tidwell said the money will also help the district bring down their rates for community organizations that use the Memorial Building for weekly events, monthly meetings and entertainment. That's one of the reasons the Lions Club, Senior League, Sierra High Traditional Jazz Club and the merchant's association all pitched in to help pay for newspaper ads, distribute flyers and post signs about the tax measure.

"We had to raise our rates to keep it running, and it really hurt those organizations," Tidwell said. He said local events will now be charged more equitable rates and possibly charge organizations outside of the community higher rates.

According to the county, there are approximately 2,212 total parcels within the district that would be subject to the tax. There is no proposed ending date for the tax. However, the Board of Directors of the Three Rivers Memorial District may cancel or reduce the special tax at any time if the district thinks it has sufficient funds.

The Three Rivers election was also the first time that touch screen voting systems. However, most Three Rivers voters, like Tidwell, are registered as permanent absentee ballot voters. Of the 734 votes, 270 were at the polls and 464 were absentee. About 46.6% of the 1,610 registered voters cast their ballots in this election. According to Tidwell, the difference was the number of people who voted, not how they voted.

"Last November about 700 absentee ballots were misaddressed," Tidwell said, regarding a similar tax measure for a $26 annual property tax that failed in November 2004.. "Because of that it was a lousy turnout and we didn't get this passed on the first try."

Hiley Wallis, elections division manager, said the county will not go to full touch screen voting yet. She said the county is hoping to have 15-20 touch screen voting centers through the county this November and possibly one per polling site by June 2006.

"This makes it easier for people who have trouble writing or seeing to mark their ballot," Wallis said. Otherwise, Wallis said, the county has not had any problems with the current scantron ballots it began using in November 1998. She said the current system is accurate and efficient, with elections staff usually done by 10 p.m. on election night. About 30% of the county's registered voters submit absentee ballots.

"We are a very busy society and most people like to vote at home and send it in," Wallis said.

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