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Nov. 3 ballot ...OTC pursues property tax increase

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Ozarks Technical Community College wants it to work. The technical college is seeking a 1 percent property tax increase with the Nov. 3 election to fund improvements to its campus, and college officials are hoping that this time voters will approve the extra funds for the college.

During the April 1997 election, OTC posed a $23 million bond issue to voters. Because the ballot issue dealt with bonds, it required a super majority, or a 57 percent majority, of voters approving the increase in all of OTC's area.

The area the college serves includes 13 school districts in an eight-county region in southwest Missouri. During this election, the college's tax increase will need to receive only a simple majority, said Brian King, dean of institutional development for the college.

The campaign committee for the issue has raised $55,000 so far, King said, and has used that money on direct mail, yard signs and buttons. The campaign also includes radio and television ads. The campaign has intensified in the last two weeks, with direct mail pieces going to 60,000 homes during the week of Oct. 26. As with its previous campaign efforts, the college's campaign committee has used a speaker's bureau, and the campaigners have spoken to at least 50 groups, King said.

Louise Henson, executive director of the Springfield Home Builders Association, and Jack Stack, chief executive officer of Springfield ReManufacturing Company, are the co-chairs of the campaign committee, King said. So far, both the committee members and college officials have been pleased with the response to their campaign efforts.

"We are cautiously optimistic at this point. With our co-chairs and their commitment to the effort, and just the amount of enthusiastic people involved, we feel like it's been a great campaign," King said.

The money raised from this property tax increase, which amounts to a 5 cent increase in the operating tax levy, will fund a new building at OTC and improvements to the former Lincoln School, now Lincoln Hall. The college has already received a $3 million state grant for the construction of a new 75,000-square-foot job training center.

That grant money could be reallocated elsewhere in the state if the college does not raise funds to match it. The match would come from the property tax increase. The total cost of the new building will be about $8 million, King said, and the $3 million will "give us a good start on that." The college also plans to spend $2 million to $3 million to renovate Lincoln Hall.

The levy increase is to sunset after 20 years, King said. Over the 20-year period, the tax increase will generate about $20 million. About $8 million to $11 million of that will be used for the capital projects for Lincoln Hall and the new building, and the remainder will be used for maintenance and paying the interest on bonds for the capital projects, King said.

The college will also initiate a discussion to determine whether it needs a satellite location outside Springfield. That study will probably cost $10,000 to $50,000, depending on its scope and range, King said.

Some of the programs that are now not on campus, such as the allied health care program, will move to OTC's main campus as a result of the new building, King said. The adult education and continuing education programs will also become part of campus.

"We've always had as our goal to have a consolidated campus. We hope that if this is successful, we will finally have all of our services consolidated into one area," King said.

The need for more space is a response to growth, King said. Since the college opened in 1991, its enrollment has gone from 1,198 students for the fall of 1991 to 5,129 for the fall of 1997.

"We are committed to keeping admissions open. We will make room for those students who want and need the kind of education and job training we can provide. To a large degree, it's going to take doing more with less," King said.

Many companies in Springfield have used OTC's job training program for cooperative programs with their own employees. Springfield ReManufacturing, Positronic Industries and, recently, First Card, have made agreements with OTC to use its programs and facilities for job training. Jack Gentry, chairman of the board of Positronic, said his company established one of the first such agreements with OTC, and the benefits to the company have been significant.

"We've got increased productivity and smarter, better-focused workers," Gentry said.

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