by Karen E. Culp
Ozarks Technical Community College is coming back to voters Nov. 3, seeking approval of a proposed 1 percent property tax increase.
Though its $23 million bond issue failed to pass in April of 1997, OTC did not stop needing more space. That's why the college will now return to the voters during the Nov. 3 general election for support of a smaller increase in the operating tax levy.
In 1997, OTC was asking voters in its district to approve a $23 million capital improvement bond project that would have raised the operating levy by 7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
This time, the college is asking for the operating tax levy for the Junior College District of Central Southwest Missouri to increase by five cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The increase would result in about a 1 percent increase in the property tax bill for most residents of the district, said Brian King, dean of institutional development for the college.
In the 1997 election, because there was a bond issue involved, the increase had to pass by a super majority, which is a four-sevenths or 57 percent majority. This time, only a simple majority is required.
Though the previous matter received about 51 percent of the vote, it did not receive the extra yes votes needed for a super majority, King said. Part of the challenge in that election was reaching the large number of voters scattered throughout 14 school districts and eight counties.
"The challenge is always finding the right message to go to all the communities and not to ignore the concerns of any one or focus all the effort on any one area," King said.
The money from this year's ballot issue, if approved, would fund the construction of a new job training center, renovation of the Old Lincoln School (now renamed Lincoln Hall), and a study to determine whether the technical college needs a satellite campus, King said.
The April 1997 proposal was potentially to fund three new buildings for OTC and the acquisition of land for a consolidated campus, King said. The college's master plan calls for the acquisition of land all the way up to National Avenue.
The last ballot issue failed largely because of the super-majority requirement, King said. In Springfield, the yes votes accounted for about 53 percent of the April 1997 vote, King said. The issue also faced crowded ballots in the outlying areas, most of which had yes-vote totals below Springfield's 53 percent.
This ballot issue faces some crowded ballots as well, but because it is part of a general election, it also faces the potential of a larger voter turnout, King said.
The new job training center this operating levy increase would fund would be an approximately $8 million building. It will be about 75,000 square feet and will be the largest of OTC's buildings.
Many of the programs currently housed in Lincoln Hall would be moved to the new building, which would hold many of the college's hands-on type programs. OTC has received a state grant of $3 million for the building, and must match that with $3 million it hopes to get from this tax increase.
"We don't want to lose that state money and have it go to St. Louis or Kansas City, where too much of our money is already going," King said.
OTC also faces the challenge of ever-increasing enrollment. The college is far ahead of its initial enrollment projections, and has grown from serving about 1,198 students in 1991, its first year of operation, to serving an estimated 5,400 in 1998.
King said the college exceeded its fifth-year enrollment projections during its third year. Enrollment increased by nearly 900 students from fall of 1996 to fall of 1997, and will likely increase by another 300 from 1997 to 1998.
"We are constantly needing more space for classrooms and services for our students," King said.
The renovation of Lincoln Hall is also a part of the plan, if the increase is approved. The main core of Lincoln Hall was built in 1931, and the entire complex, some of which was built later than 1931, is approximately 74,000 square feet total.
Lincoln Hall, once Lincoln School, is in OTC's possession as a result of its taking over Springfield Public Schools' technical education program. The college has a 99-year lease with Springfield Public Schools for Lincoln Hall, which housed the public school's vocational-technical education programs.
The recommendation for the tax increase was the result of extensive input from volunteers, King said. A campaign committee will be formed, and the chairs will be announced Aug. 19.
Local businesspeople say their companies have benefitted from the efforts of the technical college. Jack Stack, of Springfield ReManufacturing Company, said his company has been a partner with the college in programs ranging from mechanical training to literacy.
"We've had a great working relationship with OTC. It fits like a glove, really. We've had teachers call us up and refer students to us for employees, and we've had employees really benefit from the education they received at OTC," Stack said.
Stack said the college helps "bridge a gap for those kids who need a little extra help," and for students who want to focus on a particular skill. "The choice is up to us, the public, whether we want to help fund this project or do we walk away. This is a significant investment for our community," Stack said.
Louise Henson, executive officer of the Home Builders Association for Springfield, said the association has seen a number of qualified workers emerge from OTC's programs.
"There was a time when, if you wanted to become a skilled laborer, you became an apprentice, but now, there really are no apprentice programs. That's where a place like OTC can really be of help in teaching those skills to employees," Henson said.
The money from this year's ballot issue would fund the construction of a new job training center and renovation of the old Lincoln School.[[In-content Ad]]
Adrianna Norris became a first-time business owner with the opening of Finley River Chiropractic; PaPPo’s Pizzeria & Pub launched its newest location; and Huey Magoo’s opened its second store in the Ozarks.