COEUR d'ALENE - North Idaho College trustees are considering asking Kootenai County voters to approve a multi-million dollar bond to finance construction of the expansion of the college's professional technical training programs.
Trustees met for a workshop Tuesday to explore the programs' needs and priorities, and discuss possible financing options. They steered clear of discussing potential sites to expand the programs.
"I don't want us to get sidetracked, at this point in time, on where the facility's going to be located," said board chair Ken Howard at the start of the meeting. "We feel that we can go forward, identify the programs and their priorities and then go to the public and ask for, if necessary, bond proceeds in order to address these needs."
If the trustees ask the public to approve a bond measure at the polls, one path considered would not result in increased taxes for property owners. To make the annual bond payments, trustees would use a tax revenue stream that has been in place since 2008. The trustees on the board at that time, including current trustees Judy Meyer and Christie Wood, elected to exercise foregone taxing authority of $2.4 million per year to pay for the purchase of the DeArmond Mill site adjacent to the college. Trustees paid off that lease and took ownership of the property in 2010. The NIC board elected to dedicate the continuing $2.4 million revenue stream to capital improvements, and the money has been placed in a special fund each year for that purpose.
During Tuesday's meeting, Ron Nilson said most people thought that foregone taxing authority would not remain in place once the mill site was paid off. He suggested they consider giving up the $2.4 million property tax revenue stream, and ask voters to approve a bond.
Ken Howard said that if they did that, they would have to raise taxes to pay the bond off.
Christie Wood and Judy Meyer each said that even if the board seeks voter approval of a bond, they don't want to see all of the $2.4 million annual revenue stream go toward paying off the bond.
"If we obligate that for the next 30 years, we won't be able to meet our other needs," Wood said.
Mike Myers, dean of professional technical education and workforce training, told trustees that the most critical needs are in the college's manufacturing, and diesel and automotive programs. The needs are great across the board in technical education, he said, pointing out that the college has 251 students in its programs right now, but that 406 completed applications are received from eligible students.
Business and economic development leaders spoke to the board about the region's need for individuals trained in the trades.
"What we've been forced to do is under-employ," said Sunshine Minting's CEO Tom Power.
They then have to train workers in the higher skills themselves, he said, which costs time and is a drain on production.
The site for expanded manufacturing, diesel and automotive, and construction trades programs was the topic of a series of public meetings hosted by the college last spring. Hundreds of citizens turned out and testified, telling trustees and NIC's top administrators where they think the programs should be expanded - on campus, on the Rathdrum Prairie near the Kootenai Technical Education Campus high school, or at the old Jacklin Seed facility near the Greyhound Park in Post Falls.
The trustees decided they will continue exploring the various financing options.
Trustee Ken Howard urged his fellow board members to find a way to "move forward in a positive way."
He asked the trustees to consider what more they would like to discuss at additional meetings.
"We have done studies, we have had meetings... I must confess, I'm a little concerned we're still not reaching the focus on moving forward... I just don't know what more we can offer ourselves in the way of information to assist that discussion," he said.