To the Editor,

   In this upcoming election, the Madras Aquatic Center Recreation District has asked voters to pass a five-year operating levy. Some have characterized this as a choice between public safety and a community luxury. It is not. The election is about having a safe, livable and healthy community.
   We value public safety. Our jail has enough space to hold prisoners from Jefferson County and, for a fee, prisoners from Crook and Deschutes counties. The jail still has excess capacity. This is true even with tax compression impacting our jail over the past five years. In fact, our sheriff has been so prudent with jail resources that, to date, he has built an operational reserve fund.
   We acknowledge tax compression has been driven by sharply declining real market property values. That trend will continue through tax year 2012-2013. But the MAC Recreation District operations levy, if passed, won't start until tax year 2013-2014. Indicators show property values are bottoming out and are beginning to rise again. Should this trend continue, we believe the effects of tax compression will start to lessen.
   Research clearly demonstrates that quality recreation programs -- both in and out of water -- have broad impacts on the communities that invest in them. First, delinquent juvenile behavior declines when recreational activities are available. Second, our community has among the poorest health statistics in the state. Well-rounded recreation programs are a significant contributing factor to improved wellness for children, adults and seniors. Third, existing recreation programs and events are bringing hundreds of people to our community who support our businesses. We believe these business opportunities will expand if the levy passes. Fourth, new residents and businesses consider livability an important factor when selecting a new community in which to locate. Quality recreation programs are an important part of this, and will lead to growth that improves property values and addresses compression.
   Our sheriff is correct when he stresses how important public safety is. But quality recreation programs reduce delinquent behaviors, improve health, bring revenue to our local businesses, improve livability and create an atmosphere for economic development.
   Please vote yes on the MAC Recreation District operations levy so that we may move forward.
   Ann and George Neilson
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