Blackhawk Tech begins forums in advance of referendum vote

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Nick Crow
Monday, July 21, 2014

JANESVILLE — Voters will decide Aug. 12 whether Blackhawk Technical College can exceed its operational revenue limits by $4 million per year.

The first in a series of forums organized by the campaign group Friends of BTC was held Monday at the Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville. Three people showed up.

"There are 11 different open forums before the election for people to come and ask questions and make up their mind," Blackhawk President Tom Eckert said.

The meetings are aimed at informing voters about the referendum and answering questions in a casual setting.

"The fundamental thing is to have everyone understand the situation so they can make an informed decision," Eckert said. "What we're trying to do is raise our operational funding to allow us to add to existing programs and to offer new ones."

Eckert told voters Monday their property taxes paid to Blackhawk Tech will drop regardless of whether the referendum passes because of an increase in state aid. The extra aid will replace property taxes as a "dollar for dollar swap", he said.

"The average taxpayer will see a 26.7 percent decrease in property taxes (paid to Blackhawk Tech) even with the referendum," Eckert said.

Wisconsin Act 145 appropriates an additional $406 million in state aid for technical colleges. For Blackhawk Tech, that means 45 percent of funding will come from state aid, 28 percent from tuition and fees, 21 percent from property taxes and the rest from grants and other revenue.

If the referendum passes, taxes paid to Blackhawk Tech on a $100,000 house would drop about $51 a year.

If the referendum fails, taxes paid to Blackhawk Tech on a $100,000 house would drop about $88 a year.

"We're asking for the referendum so we can offer more opportunity," Eckert said. "It's up to each individual person to decide what they want."

Eckert said the referendum, if approved, would provide for more educational opportunities to help fill local jobs, more evening, weekend and part-time program options, new career programs and stronger career pathways from high schools.

In addition, Blackhawk resources have been cut by $1.5 million while the operational budget has been frozen at 2010 levels. The college has cut $4.9 million in spending since 2011 as a result, Eckert said.

"All along what we've wanted to do is be very transparent about where we are," Eckert said. "These forums are designed simply to let voters ask questions, express concerns and voice their opinions in support of what they want."

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