Wooing the 49 Percent

By Randy Noles

When I was a kid, we lived for a time in Maitland on Lake Sybelia, within walking distance of the Maitland Public Library. Most Saturday mornings, I’d make my way to the charming old building and spend hours reading American Heritage magazines — the ones with the hard covers, like books.

No, I wasn’t one of the cool kids. Ensconcing myself in a secluded corner surrounded by shelves of reading matter was my idea of the perfect way to spend the day.

In Winter Park, voters recently approved a bond issue of up to $30 million to build a new combined library and events center (plus a parking structure) in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, on the site of the current Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center.

But the vote was a squeaker. The bond issue passed with just 51 percent of the vote, and despite outspoken opposition from people who think the current library on New England Avenue is just fine, thank you very much.

Others argued that we might not really need a library at all. After all, who reads print-on-paper books anymore? Whenever I saw such a statement on Facebook (which is where most issues are debated these days), I wondered if those taking such a stance had actually been to a library in the past decade or so.

Thankfully, a bare majority accepted the many arguments supporting the need for a 21st century, multiuse facility with (yes) more books, more space and state-of-the-art technology.

But it wasn’t the kind of rousing mandate that supporters likely hoped for. That’s why it’s incumbent upon the powers that be to make the next steps as transparent and inclusive as possible.

A decade from now, the 49 percent who voted no ought to feel just as connected to the project as the 51 percent who voted yes. After all, regardless of the close vote, 100 percent of taxpayers will be footing the bill.

There’s every reason to expect the best.

Winter Park voters have approved four bond issues in recent history. The first, in 1992, was used to renovate the old railroad depot, where the Farmers’ Market and the History Museum are, and to add a third story to the current library.

The second, in 1996, was used to buy the Winter Park Country Club golf course. In 2000, a bond issue allowed the city to construct its Public Safety Building. And in 2003, another bond issue enabled the city to buy out its franchise agreement with Progress Energy and to operate its own electric utility.

Several of these bond issues passed easily, while others were highly contentious. But today, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who believes the money for these initiatives was poorly spent.

So, the hotly contested affirmative vote isn’t the end of a campaign but the beginning of a process — one that will hopefully involve some present-day skeptics who’ll look back one day and say, with pride, “I helped build that.”

Randy Noles



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