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Thumbs up, Thumbs down August 28

Mural rejected

We don’t like the recent decision by the Danville Architectural Heritage Board to reject a mural planned for downtown Danville.

It’s not because the AHB approved the location but then denied the actual certificate of appropriateness. Such a decision was within the board’s authority and it was reported and made clear when the location was approved that a second approval would be needed.

We don’t like the decision because it represents a shift in what the AHB views as its purpose in the downtown district. The AHB members didn’t really vote against it because the mural project failed to meet any requirements in the design guidelines. They voted against it because they didn’t like the look of the art.

In doing so, they moved the board away from acting as a neutral guardian of downtown Danville’s historic value and toward becoming a governmental micromanager of private property.

It shouldn’t matter if a downtown project fails to appeal to the aesthetic tastes of every single AHB member; they shouldn’t be basing their decisions on personal tastes, but on the rules created to protect historically significant buildings.

We could argue all day about whether the proposed mural is cool enough, or serious enough, or local enough. We could argue about whether it’s better than what’s there now (a blank, windowless wall along a parking lot). But most of those conversations should be had by the public, by the property owners and by the Heart of Danville, which landed the grant to make the mural possible; those conversations are not what the AHB exists for.

We’re glad the Heart has appealed to Danville City Commission and we hope it is successful in getting approval for the mural — whether or not it’s to our tastes.

Hopefully, this case is just a bump in the road for the AHB, and not a bad sign of things to come. We want the AHB to guide development and maintenance so we don’t lose the wonderful downtown spaces we have; but we don’t want it to become a drag on the cultural and commercial enterprises that make those downtown spaces so enjoyable.

Public tax hearings

The Boyle County and Danville school districts are both holding public hearings on possible property tax increases — Boyle County’s is 7 p.m. Thursday and Danville’s will be next week.

It’s always easy to complain about taxes. If you rant that you pay too much in taxes, not many people are going to disagree with you. But the reality is a lot of what we take for granted about our lives these days would crumble or disappear without the taxes we have in place.

People often say they want tax cuts, but they’d be equally as enraged if the services those taxes provide were cut. There’s a balancing act that must be achieved: You need enough taxes to pay for the services expected; and you must always try to provide those services as efficiently as possible.

That’s why we like the requirement that if a taxing district wants to increase its property taxes, it must hold a public hearing. These hearings allow the districts to make their cases and explain why an increase might be necessary or what added tax dollars would provide. They also allow members of the public to voice support or dissent and inform the districts of what their decisions would mean in the real world.

The hearings encourage both sides to be informed and speak thoughtfully, rather than just chanting “taxes bad” or “revenue good.” If a taxing district wants support for an increase, it can’t just argue that “schools should get all the money they need;” it has to show why an increase is needed and what would happen without it. If members of the public really want to sway a taxing district against an increase, they can’t just yell and criticize the district for considering an increase; they have to speak reasonably, demonstrate they’ve understood the case being made for an increase and explain clearly why they are still opposed.

Whatever school boards ultimately choose to do, holding the hearings means they’ll be making educated decisions.