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Our View: Building toward a better future … carefully

After years of simply maintaining the status quo during the economic recession, city and school officials in Cloquet are emerging from their no-new-spending frame of mind and looking at actually improving facilities and services.

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That is, after all, the beauty of government — its ability to accomplish great things that citizens alone could not afford or manage on their own. Without government institutions — which we fund with our taxes — who would repair and plow our streets, monitor and provide clean water, build and maintain our sewers, educate our youth and much more?

We applaud the city and school district for their proactive thinking, and the way the two organizations are laying the groundwork for possible future improvements by first studying the issues carefully.

Granted, it does seem like the city of Cloquet is awash in studies and assessments. The school district hired a pair of consultants to evaluate the district’s facilities — as a step toward a possible building referendum in the future — and is now gathering public input on that study and various future building options.

The city of Cloquet is juggling numerous evaluations. Completed studies or plans include the recently completed long-range Parks Master Plan, a strategic plan for the library, an evaluation of the two ice arenas at Pine Valley and the police department analysis.

Ongoing studies in the city range from housing, to long-range transportation plans, as well as a complete city facilities assessment.

And then there’s the Cloquet Area Fire District, which is talking of expanding on its own long-range strategic plan with funds from the recently announced $500,000 Bush Foundation grant.

While all these studies and consultant salaries may seem like a waste of time and money to some — handled correctly, those reports could be worth their weight in gold. They provide a lot of homegrown data, as well as comparisons to other institutions/cities/organizations that have faced similar issues.

Step two should come from us.

As community members and taxpayers, it is our job to provide input to the officials we hire and vote for to run our institutions. After all, we live here. Plus, the people who live here have many different skill sets and perspectives that can only enhance what professional consultants have to offer.

The school district facilities meeting Monday night was a wonderful example of that. Close to 75 community members sat in the high school cafeteria and discussed — in small groups and then a larger group — different ways of creating better school facilities for our children and how those same facilities could be used by the community at large. The range of people gathered there was impressive, and included numerous elected officials as well as building professionals, retired teachers, police officers and firefighters, current educators, students, business people and concerned parents.

While everyone present Monday appeared to support getting rid of the old middle school (one man suggested blowing it up), those who oppose the measure also need to do their job as citizens and make their opinions known. At least in the case of the school district, any building plan will have to pass a vote, so it’s important that all sides weigh in before the vote is set.

Finally, as community members and taxpayers, it is also our job to watchdog the consultants and officials. We should make sure they’re not exaggerating numbers to sell a project, or showing favoritism toward a particular company or plan of action without giving others a fair shake.

Our elected officials are usually regular citizens just like us, so they can use all the input and expertise that we’re willing to give.

Jana Peterson