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For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

School district crunches election numbers

132 votes make the difference

"There is no question that the election passed, and not by the skin of our teeth, either."

Cathy Zarcardi, school district election clerk

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County voters gave a green light to the largest school district tax levy in the county’s history last week, but not without some last-minute jockeying to defeat the measure by the plans’ critics—jockeying the school district denies had any affect on the election.

Three of the four voting districts in the county passed the $4 million-per-year, 10-year plan, with Bellevue being the lone dissenter.

Voters at Hemingway Elementary School, Hailey Elementary School and Carey School passed the measure. However, because voters could cast their ballots at any of the four polling places, it is impossible to draw conclusions about the attitudes of voters from particular areas based on the results.

The measure, which required 55 percent approval to pass, received 57.88 percent at Hemingway; 61.7 percent at Hailey; 61.09 percent at Carey; and 50.19 percent at Bellevue.

Countywide, the measure received 58.7 percent approval.

A total of 3,569 ballots were cast—1,623 from Hailey, 1,199 from Hemingway, 526 from Bellevue and 221 from Carey.

Just how close the measure came to failing becomes clear when considering the number of "no" votes that could have defeated it. According to district financial expert Mike Chatterton, 132 voters casting "no" votes instead of "yes" votes could have made the difference.

District election clerk Cathy Zarcardi, however, prefers to look at the difference between "yes" and "no" votes, which is 489.

During a telephone call from her office last week, she said, "There is no question that the election passed, and not by the skin of our teeth, either."

Whatever the case, critics of the plan worked hard against the election last Tuesday.

Critic Tom Ruemmler, who, weeks before the election, purchased two one-page newspaper ads denouncing the district’s plans, received six free minutes of air time on KECH radio station Tuesday.

According to station representative Scott Parker, Ruemmler threatened to sue the radio station after radio newsman Gary Stivers reported a story on the election.

Ruemmler accused Stivers of not reporting "both sides of the issue," Parker said.

The station gave Ruemmler the free air time to prevent the lawsuit, according to Parker.

"Basically, we didn’t need the problem," Parker said, "so [Ruemmler] got his time."

Other last-minute campaigning against the levy came from a group calling itself "Citizens for Truthful Information in Education," according to Parker. That group purchased 34 minutes of air time for $340, Parker said.

The school district’s Education For All election team purchased $600 worth of air time to promote the levy, according to Parker, and another $75 after Ruemmler’s six-minute spot ran.

During last week’s telephone call, clerk Zacardi denounced Ruemmler’s radio spots as "very ugly, very nasty," but she said she was pleased with the election results.

"This was a big item," she said. "Blaine County has not addressed before a measure of this magnitude…I’m proud that Blaine County residents stepped up to the plate."

The first project district officials say they will begin spending money on is the construction of a new bus barn in Hailey. That project will begin in the next several months, officials say, followed in the next year by the construction of a new high school.


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