GILBERT — Mayor Karl Oberstar Jr. on Wednesday praised both sides of the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school referendum for "a very friendly, democratic style of campaigning," with Tuesday's vote passing the referendum.
But Oberstar advocated strongly for a no vote. "There were many, many views and all valid about the positive and negative effects of this collaboration of school districts — especially in the construction of new facilities. Everyone probably knows that I have asked for 1) a new K-6 facility for the kids be built in the heart of each community, 2) a reasonable affordable use be planned for the remaining facilities in each community (not just demolish all of them), 3) sweetening up of the revenue side, so taxpayers on fixed incomes will not be burdened the next 20 years with tax increases — which I predict will happen," Oberstar said.
"As for Gilbert, it will have a drastic effect in probably five to 10 years from now. It will be harder to attract people with families to move to Gilbert because of bussing children to school at the elementary age," Oberstar said. "Kids should be able to walk to school or take short drives with parents to school, not get on a bus early in the morning and ride 45 minutes on a bus route to get to an elementary school five miles away."
Regarding city government Oberstar said, "When we try to bring business to our community, first questions are these: What’s the population of your city? Do you have a school? Do you have available housing? I predict our population will decline, housing will be no problem with all the empty homes left behind and taxes at the city and school level will continue to increase. Sad but true — unless PolyMet and other mining jobs are in our future, and they will have to come through Gilbert to get to the East Iron Range — no school here — they may just decide to reside in the Mesabi East district on the east end of the Range.”
Oberstar said according to information he had received about the voting numbers, "the difference between yes/no votes was in Virgina 1,000-plus votes, in Eveleth 428 votes and in Gilbert 62 votes so the Gilbert voters did have a good understanding of the effect this will have on Gilbert and themselves personally in the near future."
Oberstar predicts declining population and increased property taxes and fewer chances of successful business recruitment to the community. Oberstar added, "Lastly, good luck to the students in the educational academy style of learning here at the new Mesabi central school."