I moved to Lakeland in 2012 for no other reason than to be near my children and their families. My son had lived in Lakeland since he was married 17 years ago. His children have never lived in a different city. My daughter and her family moved to the city from Bartlett 5 years ago lured in by my being here, her brother telling her what a great community it was and by the excellent school system. When I moved I had been recently widowed and nearing retirement age. Being nearer my grandchildren was a priority, but being in Lakeland felt like home. Since I moved, I have retired and become one of those people that are so often brought up in the debate over taxes. I am elderly, but only by age; widowed, retired and on a fixed income. Judging by the debate on social media, I should be horrified by an increased tax rate. Instead, I embrace it.
I see and hear a number of conversations being had as to my welfare. I hear that the higher tax rate will lead me to go without food or my medications. To that argument and to those waging it I have this statement: everyday there are elderly people that go without food and medicine. They go without adequate medical care or even day to day basic human interaction. This has gone on when Lakeland had zero property tax and will continue whether our tax rate is $1.25 or $1.89. Where has your support for our seniors been before this debate? Is $1.89 the tipping point where all those that are retired lose everything? If not, where is that point, and at what point were you going to step in? Make no mistake; I am not discounting the concerns of the elderly. I care for my own mother every day, I see her struggles and I am fully aware that these problems exist even in an affluent city like Lakeland. I am only questioning the motives of those that are seemingly rushing to my aid at this point.
Those who question the necessity of a tax increase for schools are also the same people that have questioned the necessity of schools in Lakeland completely. They argued against the creation of a Lakeland School System, they argued against the need for a middle school and they now argue against the need of a high school. Two arguments that are quite common are that a school only benefits the children that go there and if one doesn’t have a child in that school, they shouldn’t have to pay. The latter argument is easily discredited. I live in a neighborhood that has alleyways that need repaving. Since I have moved into my house my HOA fees have increased 150%. Those that have lived in my neighborhood longer have seen their fees increase 300% or more. These increases are only because of the paving of the alleyways. I do not live in a house connected to an alleyway, so I shouldn’t have to pay, right? Wrong. The alleyways are part of the neighborhood as much as my mailbox or a fire hydrant. If they are in disrepair, the neighborhood becomes unsightly and it begins to affect my home value. I pay because I want my neighborhood to look its best so that my investment has the ability to rise in value (by the way, when my HOA fees increased not one person came to the defense of this elderly, widowed, retired person on a fixed income. Just saying). I also will probably never drive on a road in north Lakeland. I hear complaints constantly how horrible the roads are, but since I don’t drive on those roads should my tax dollars be used there? Yes, because it benefits the city and this community. Better roads make for a better community and that is where people want to move.
The argument of who benefits from a high school is also simple. The answer is the community as a whole. As a grandmother, I feel that it is my duty to prepare my grandchildren for the world. If I teach my grandchild kindness and generosity, does it only benefit my grandchild? No, it benefits their friends, which benefits their friends and so on until you have a web-like structure that touches many more people than just my grandchild. So it is with schools, creating a web of benefits that touch not only the children attending the school, but a range of others. It creates new jobs, the local government sees an increase in revenue that allows the construction of other community based structures (e.g. the new Arlington tennis courts) and a complete school system has been shown in study after study to increase the desirability of the community which directly leads to higher property values. A high school is normally seen as the soul of a community, especially in a small town like Lakeland. It is a source of great pride. When you help your neighbor build his house, you are proud that you assisted. When you build your own house, your pride is immeasurable.
Lakeland is not the first city to use taxpayer dollars to build a school. It is definitely not the first to have to raise taxes to do so. For those so against educating the current youth and children for decades to come, the question becomes whether or not they truly have the best interests of the City of Lakeland at heart. When they argue that we must take care of our seniors now, they are being disingenuous and using our seniors as props for their anti-growth platform. They did not take up our banner before this argument and will drop it to the ground once the school situation is resolved. If they do not want to pay for a school because they won’t use it, they do not support the community that you call home. If they say that only the children benefit, they have never been a parent or a grandparent and watched their child/grandchild graduate. I am sure that our current tax rate is only temporary and once the USDA loan is secured the rate will return to its previous level. But if for some reason that is not possible, I will gladly pay now for the future of Lakeland and reap its many benefits.