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Staples-Motley referendum: Uncertainty looms as voters hit the polls

Voters lined up outside the Staples Community Center Tuesday, May 14, waiting to cast their ballots in the Staples-Motley School District's $60 million bonding referendum. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Mixed emotions is the best way to describe feelings in the Staples-Motley community as voters took to the polls Tuesday, May 14, to cast ballots for the school district's $60 million bonding referendum.

In Staples, a line of voters gathered inside the community center, waiting outside the polling room before the noon opening time. By 12:30 p.m., a line had formed out the door, down the stairs and onto the sidewalk in front of the building.

There, voters were split on both sides of the issue.

Tim and Kathie Carlson and Leland Webster weren't sure what the final verdict would be but admitted they weren't quite sold on the plan themselves.

With their property taxes already increasing next year, Webster and Tim Carlson—both retirees on limited incomes—worried about the cost.

"I know it costs money to do things, but it costs money to live, too," Webster said, noting it would be difficult to figure how to foot the bill if the measure passes.

"I don't think it's the right time," Tim Carlson said, saying the referendum may be necessary but not feasible right now. "If it makes it, well, I might have to find a part-time job to pay my taxes."

Kathie Carlson said she had many mixed feelings.

"You want the better for your kids, but then the outcome, what's that going to be?" she said.

On the other hand, Rita Stone and Maryann Riewer hoped for a successful referendum.

"We hope for our kids' sake that it passes," Riewer said, noting she used to drive school bus in the district and her husband has taught there for more than 30 years.

For Stone, it's all about educational opportunities.

"My kids had a good education, I had a good education. It's just run down; it's just time for a new one, that's all," Stone said of the school facilities.

Over in Motley, a van with "VOTE NO" painted in large letters on the windows pulled up to city hall about 12:45 p.m.

A couple voters who spoke with the Brainerd Dispatch had similar sentiments.

Motley resident Larry Converse Sr. did not have high hopes of the referendum passing as he came out of city hall after voting.

"I don't think it'll pass. I don't think it'll be close," he said, emphasizing he's not against education but hopes this plan fails so the district can restructure it and come back to the voters later.

Ken Swecker, another Motley resident and former school board member, said he thought it would pass but hoped it didn't, noting money would be better spent on the current facilities rather than building new ones.

Polls are open at Motley City Hall and the Staples Community Center until 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters can visit https://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us/ to determine their polling location.

For more details on the referendum, visit https://tinyurl.com/yxfeqhbm.

Theresa Bourke

I started at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and the Brainerd School District. I follow city and school board officials as they make important decisions for residents and students and decide how to spend taxpayer dollars. I look for feature story ideas among those I meet and enjoy, more than anything, helping individuals tell their stories and show what makes them unique.

Everyone has a story. Let us tell yours.

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