The Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Proposition 410, which will be on the upcoming Nov. 8 ballot. Prop 410 asks voters to help the Coconino Community College fund programs for vocational skills and replenish staff numbers through a property tax increase.
“We are absolutely clear that our local employers need skills training for their employees and future employees,” said Julie Pastrick, CEO of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce. “That is why we are supporting Prop 410.”
“Community college is integral to community economic success. Currently, some businesses are going elsewhere for job skills training. They have to send their employers out of town for some skills and certificate training. That creates more expense in time and travel for local businesses,” explained Pastrick, who is a strong advocate for skills training. Through their Education Division, the Chamber has focused on career pathways and business education partnerships during the past 10-plus years of her tenure.
Currently, property taxpayers pay a $2 per month override of the primary property tax (for an average Coconino County home) to pay off the 1999 voter-approved bonds that helped build the College’s main campus. Those bonds will be paid in full in 2019. The Prop 410 tax override, which asks for a $3 per month override to the primary tax, would go into effect after the current bond payments end. The Prop 410 override would be equal to an approximately $1 increase per month for an average-value home in Coconino County and would be limited to seven years.
“If the tax passes, this would give us $3 million per year for programs,” said Executive Director of Institutional Advancement at Coconino Community College Scott Talboom. Tuition and fees comprise only 45 percent of CCC’s funding sources. Property taxes make up 44 percent, while state aid contributes 11 percent of primary funding sources.
State funding has been on a decline since 2000 when state aide per full-time student was at $1,895. Today, that figure is down to $838. In the meantime, student annual tuition (30 credit hours) has increased from $900 in 2000 to $3,060 in 2016.
“In order to create new programs, the only place we can go is to the taxpayers,” Talboom said in an exclusive Flagstaff Business News interview. “In terms of property tax, we are the most underfunded community college in the state.”
Pastrick explained, “The mechanism for funding CCC is a little outdated, so there has to be another mechanism for funding. When we have a chance to fund with Prop 410, extra revenue will open the door for these needed programs.” The primary property tax, established over 25 years ago, is set at only $0.49 per $100 of assessed valuation, and underestimated current demands. When compared to other community college tax rates in the state, Coconino Community College is the lowest and at $0.49 sits well below the state average of $1.80. The low primary tax rate is one of the reasons that an override tax is seen as necessary.
“There has been very thorough research from the CCC board,” added Pastrick. After listening to hundreds of residents, business owners, students and parents, the Governing Board of Coconino Community College voted unanimously to ask voters whether or not they would support a property tax increase to fund the college.
The new bonds would be used to create and improve job training programs, enhance instruction, expand high school to college programs, continue CCC to university transition programs, to enhance services throughout the county, and to provide lifelong learning opportunities.
“When the override failed last time, they cut back on programs for basic skills training for different types of businesses in our community. CCC plays a critical role in providing skills training that other community colleges are providing across the nation,” noted Pastrick.
“Local auto dealers have to go as far away as Farmington, New Mexico, for mechanic technician training. Our manufacturers have looked to Holbrook or Prescott for skills training,” said the Chamber CEO. “Architects and builders need employees who take auto cad and technology courses to upgrade computer skills. In the long run, we lack graphic designers, web designers and IT support people. This override will be an answer to help bring the ‘community’ back to community college. We have been at a big disadvantage for so long.”
The Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce worked with a consulting firm from the Bay Area to assess needs of different economic sectors in the area. The group teamed with business leaders in the digital and manufacturing sectors to create economic development strategies. “In both sectors, the number one priority was the availability of skilled labor in our market. There are a lot of people who would like a job, but they need training,” said Pastrick.
“This is a broad community. Job skills education gets even more important when you move to Page or Williams – in the more rural areas – these communities need the same programs,” said Pastrick, who chaired the Rural Business Development Advisory Council, a division of the Arizona Commerce Authority, from 2012 to 2015. Coconino Community College serves the entire county with campuses, service or instructional sites in Flagstaff, Fredonia, Grand Canyon, Kaibito, Page, Supai and Williams.
“This override is critical to the economic success for our community and for the region,” Pastrick added. “Residents throughout Coconino County deserve passage of Prop 410, which will provide access to education that can improve their quality of life and earning potential.” FBN
By Stacey Wittig, FBN