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Can we afford not to.....?
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I was stopped on the sidewalk the other day by a Ceres Unified School District official who was curious if the Courier was going to endorse Measure U.

We haven't been endorsing candidates or measures in quite some time, I explained. We have an aversion for telling people how to vote. I think if you take an editorial stand you often suggest to some readers that your reporting has been slanted pro or con on those issues. A newspaper's job is to present the facts and let people decide for their own.

Measure U is a tax increase. And no doubt about it: This is a horrible time to ask for tax increases. CUSD wants to add an assessment to property tax rolls within the district to build new facilities at all the schools.

The measure would place an assessment of up to $60 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation annually for 30 years. Property owners within CUSD already pay $30 per $100,000 for Measure J, passed in 2001 for construction of Central Valley High School. If the new bond measure passes, a property with an assessed valuation of $200,000 would be assessed by another $120 per year.

I have a feeling that political consultants have advised CUSD to politically posture Measure U as an anti-gang / anti-drug program to make this thing fly. I'm sure they took notice - and were in awe - that Ceres voters last year increased the sales tax by a half-cent to fund more police and fire personnel. Voters simply said yes to a tax because the tax promised them more officers. So far they have not been disappointed by the creation of a new Street Crimes Unit. It's going to be a harder sale for CUSD this time.

Measure U proponents suggest that by creating a first-rate vocational education program at Ceres High School that it will somehow stop gangs and drugs because kids who are not college bound will be trained for jobs. While I understand and appreciate the value that voc-ed has in the community, it's far fetched to say Measure U is about preventing gangs. The truth is that you could throw all the money in the world into a program like this and you will still have the rotten apples of society go to the dark side, do their dirty deeds with their drug sales and gang-banging and shooting people.

Ultimately Measure U comes down to each voter asking: Can I afford this? I certainly understand the knee-jerk reaction to say no. It seems like politicos are never afraid to keep asking for more and more taxes from us. Taxpayers have a breaking point and at some point people are going to need to say, stop, we can't afford this anymore.

But on the other hand, people need to study Measure U and see what it will buy. Measure U's $60 million buys a lot. It essentially upgrades all Ceres schools and designates $25 million for a third junior high school. Matching funds from the state would also be provided to help pay for the upgrades.

The measure would allow all five recently built schools - Sinclear, Berryhill, La Rosa, Adkison, and Hidahl - to receive a library/computer lab/ classroom complex.

Measure U would also:

• Allow CUSD to replace aging portable classrooms and upgrade bathroom facilities at the older schools.

• Improve vocational education at Ceres High School .

• Set aside $25 million of a $30 million junior high school somewhere on the east side of Ceres. A new school would allow the existing two junior schools to stay at a manageable side. CUSD would like to open a third junior high in August 2011 or 2012.

• Build a $3.8 million 8-classroom wing and replace portables at Ceres High. The interior of the small gym and the Doghouse structures would be rehabilitated.

• Build a $10.5 million 16-classroom wing at Central Valley High School to house 400 students.

• Replace most of the older portable classrooms with more permanent modular classrooms at most campuses. The modular classrooms would look like permanent buildings and set on concrete pads and have a life of 80 to 100 years.

It sounds like the spending plan is a great one. But again, can we afford it at this time?

Likewise, voters are going to asked to dig deeper to improve roads with Measure S. The new half-cent sales tax measure has a life of 20 years and would raise an estimated $700 million for road maintenance and road construction projects.

Half of the revenues would be spent on local road maintenance and spent as the cities and county see fit, while the other half would be used to construct new roads. The formula would give Ceres $27.6 million for local road maintenance.

The pot of money for new road projects is being split for spending in three corridors: northern, central and southern. The Service/Mitchell/ 99 interchange project would take a $30 million chunk of the central monies.

Do our roads need help? Yep. Something has got to give: Roads or our money. It's apparent that the financially mismanaged state of California doesn't have an answer. Maybe the question isn't can we afford it but rather "Can we afford not to?"

How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at