SIDNEY — The fate of more than 60 programs and affordable tuition at Montcalm Community College (MCC) will likely come before the eyes of voters at the ballot box this November.
During Tuesday’s morning MCC Board of Trustees meeting, board members, accompanied by several task force members, discussed the likely possibility of asking voters to renew the current 10-year millage.
According to MCC President Bob Ferrentino, over the next several months MCC will be implementing a public policy program to share information to the public on the college’s 1.25 mill tax levy that is set to expire in early 2015.
Ferrentino said the MCC Board is considering placing the levy renewal proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot, stating “it is highly likely that this will happen,” with a decision coming from the board in August.
Ferrentino said the current levy, approved by voters in 2005, provides nearly $2.5 million annually toward MCC’s operating budget, which is approximately 18 percent of the college’s total budget.
“It helps fund faculty and staff, facility maintenance, technology and other critical operating needs,” he said. “The funding also helps us keep fees and tuition affordable.”
According to Ferrentino, the renewal would not increase taxes, but would only extend the current tax levy an additional 10 years.
If the millage renewal lands on the November ballot and is approved by voters, Ferrentino said it would help fund more than 60 programs at the college, including nursing, allied health, business, manufacturing and computer technology.
By extending the millage into future years, Ferrentino said the additional funds would go toward benefiting four key market sectors; manufacturing skills development, health careers, integrated information technology, and agribusiness.
Perhaps most importably, Ferrentino said the millage renewal would have a positive impact on tuition.
“The mill levy plays an important role in keeping tuition and fees affordable,” he said. “The college’s tuition rates are close to the state average for community colleges.”
In an effort to develop a comprehensive public outreach program to inform residents about the millage renewal, board members listened to a public policy program update presentation from Paul Hanley, senior vice president of George K. Baum & Co.
Hanley’s company has performed market research in the form of phone calls and mailers that were sent out to residents. After several weeks of collecting and analyzing the data, Hanley said the initial results show that 86 percent of potential voters would be in favor of the millage renewal with the main concern being that tuition rates stay affordable.
The previous millage that passed in 2005 did so with a favorable 80 percent of the vote, but Hanley said an assumption that a millage renewal would be successful again would not be wise, and he commended the board for gathering additional research.
“We could just make the assumption that it passed 10 years ago, so why should we jump through all of these hoops to make sure it passes?” he asked. “It’s worth the effort, because now we have data that we can go back to and feel confident in raising our hand and saying that we want to continue this tax.”
Over time, Hanley said the general perception of what is needed at the college level, as far as funding from a millage is concerned, has changed.
“Five to 10 years ago, if I asked a question about bricks and mortar, maintaining facilities or replacing the roof, people loved that,” he said. “But something’s happening in the United States … now people want great teachers, great programs, these things that really, really matter. I like that we’re at that point, but it does make it (harder to sell) the bond proposal.”
Despite the initial positive results from the survey, Board Chairwoman Karen Carbonelli said she believes it to be very important that the board continue to strive to inform the public “as much as possible” about the details of the millage.
“This is all quite positive, but I think that we have to keep working towards our goal and making sure that everyone we come in contact with is properly informed,” she said. “The message that this is truly a renewal and will not raise your taxes is very, very important. It’s important not to just say ‘everything looks good.’”
Ferrentino said the next step in the process will be to officially launch a campaign to inform residents within the college’s district about the millage.
“Personally, as we keep moving forward toward August and November, the friends of MCC need to get active,” he said. “As I reviewed the results, there are some “no’s” that make you just shake your head. The good thing is, that’s by far the minority. Those few people, I firmly believe, are just not informed and do not know what is going on. We have a job to do to communicate, but we have to develop our next-step strategy.”