All 15 Iowa community colleges are partially financed with property tax revenue and officials from five of the systems have placed their school’s “facilities” levy on the ballot for the September 10th school board elections. Tom Lesan is a vice president at Southwestern Community College in Creston, one of the schools asking area voters to approve the property tax levy. “For Southwestern, it generates just under $500,000 every year that can be spent for physical infrastructure, so buildings, parking lots, sidewalks — that kind of thing,” Lesen says. “It cannot be used for salaries.”
The first building on the school’s Creston campus opened in 1970. In 1985, an attendance center was opened in Red Oak. Eleven years ago another attendance center opened in Osceola. Lesan says his community college would have a hard time keeping its facilities in shape without this property tax levy. “You can’t charge enough tuition to the students to take care of all the buildings and put in parking lots and in Red Oak specifically, you know, we remodeled an old skating rink and that’s the money we used to be able to do that, Now, we built onto that building with a private donation, but the original remodel, the parking lot — all of that was done with money that is generated by the plant fund.”
The college has purchased space on area billboards, advertising the property tax levy vote in the upcoming election, plus Lesan and other college officials are traveling around the area, speaking to civic groups about the vote. Lesan says Southwestern can’t afford complacency on the referendum. “We’ve passed it every time we’ve voted it,” Lesan says. “You know, I really don’t expect there to be a big problem, but we’re also not going to take it for granted. We’re going to get out and we’re going to talk to a lot of different groups and remind them that 10 years ago we did this and 10 years before that we did it and 10 years before that we did it and it’s just something we have to do and get it out there in front of people so they’ll know what they’re voting on and they’ll feel a lot more comfortable voting yes.”
The levy needs a simple majority in order to pass and is in force for 10 years. In addition to Southwestern, voters in the following areas will be asked to vote on a facilities levy for their local community college: Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs and Southeastern Community College in Burlington. The other 10 colleges have had facilities levies approved within the last five years.