Beloit organizations support Blackhawk Technical College referendum

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Nick Crow
Sunday, July 13, 2014

JANESVILLE— The Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corp. are endorsing Blackhawk Technical College's August referendum, the groups announced in a written statement.

Blackhawk Technical College will ask voters Aug. 12 for permission to exceed the school's levy limit by $4 million annually.

The referendum will ask voters to approve the levy increase for operational needs rather than for capital improvements. Referendums in the past have been for capital improvements, but state law now limits how much technical colleges can tax for operations unless voters approve more through a referendum.

If the approved, the referendum would allow BTC to permanently increase the school's local funding by $4 million a year, and it would raise taxes as much as $37 on a $100,000 house annually, BTC President Tom Eckert said.

The proposed referendum comes on the heels of Act 145, which appropriates $406 million in additional state aid for technical colleges in an effort to reduce property taxes. The state will increase assistance to Blackhawk from $2.8 million to $12.7 million.

The legislation funds the college with 45 percent from state aid, 28 percent from tuition and fees and 21 percent from local taxes. The rest is from grants and other revenue.

The college will tax residents $15.2 million in 2014-2015 without passage of the referendum. That's a decrease of 26.7 percent from 2013-2014 because of the increase in state aid. The tax levy for the college will decrease even if the referendum passes, Eckert said.

The college's last referendum was for $17.5 million in 2002. It paid for building expansions on the central campus.

The two organizations support the referendum because they say:

- Blackhawk's operational costs per full-time employee are the lowest in the state.

- The referendum will increase educational opportunities and support for students, which will enrich the local workforce and lower unemployment costs in the area.

- Wisconsin is experiencing a labor shortage, according to the written statement. Blackhawk boasts an average of 92 percent of graduates who stay and work in Wisconsin.

- The group's goals are to create a demand-driven workforce. With the college already experiencing waiting lists for many of its programs, the community needs to respond by fostering programs that will educate students and plug them into the workforce, according to the written statement.

- The groups believe the referendum would lead to an increase in the quality of life in the area by lowering health care costs, lowering the crime rate, increasing the productivity of citizens and keeping vital education affordable to the workforce in the region.

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