Skip to Content

Possibility of an Eastern Idaho community college gets heated at public debate

Bonneville County voters will decide whether to turn Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college when they cast their ballots one week from Tuesday. If approved, those in support of the change say Bonneville County taxpayers will see a 3 percent increase in their property taxes, a figure the opposition disagrees with.

The change to a community college would result in the creation of a taxing district within Bonneville County. As it stands now, Idaho’s community colleges are currently funded out of the operations and maintenance fund (O&M). Those opposed to the community college say the taxing district would result in “never-ending taxes”.

“The O&M fund by itself can be as high as $125 per year per $100K in taxable value you own,” the opposition writes on its website “Suppose the appointed board feels a new campus gym is needed to attract students. They can start taxes for that the first year without any vote or further authorization from voters. “

The issue of taxes and the cost to taxpayers was a sticking point for those for and against the change during a debate hosted Monday evening by Local News 8, KIDK Eyewitness News 3 and KID radio.

“One side is fiscally conservative and respects Bonneville County taxpayers,” Mario Hernandez, who supports the community college, said. “That is us. One side understands the real value. One side is appreciative of the $5 million set aside by the state legislature for the community college.”

The start-up cost for the community college would be about $800,000, according to an economic impact study completed in August 2016. Student tuition and fees, liquor taxes and the $5 million set-aside from the legislature would pay for the rest.

In April, the Bonneville Republican Central Committee came out against the change, citing future tax increases.

“A big question every voter should ask is if it only costs $13 per year for the average property owner in yearly taxes, why didn’t [they] put that limiting language on the ballot question,” the whyacommunitycollege website reads. “We speculate they know your first-year taxes probably won’t even be close to $13 for the average owner or perhaps they knew that voters might never support something like this if the true costs were told up front. Who knows? In fact, we may never know the real reason why they left the price tag off.”

If voters approve the change, EITC would keep its vocational programs like nursing and welding while adding options for an Associate of Science or Associate of Arts degree. Those supporting the change say it could help local businesses recruit the new graduates while those in opposition believe the issue isn’t hiring, but finding experienced candidates to fill the jobs.

“EITC is a necessity,” Mark Fuller, who opposes the community college, said. “We have the only technical school in the state. It places 100-percent of its welders. The hospital doesn’t need new nurses. They need experienced nurses, that is the ones they are looking for. I’m quite familiar with how things work in the hospital and I know how many nurses they bring in from other areas.”

The “Citizens for Affordable Higher Education” group started a petition in 2016 to get the issue on the May 16 ballot. The group says with changes in job requirements, a community college can offer a more specialized training than EITC.

“From 2009 to 2013, the number of job postings requiring a certificate or an associate degree tripled,” community college supporter, Park Price said. “Those are going to go up.”

The community college proposal has the support of all of Idaho’s community colleges, colleges, and universities. It also had the support of Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.

“Today I’d like to invite the people of Eastern Idaho to advance their ongoing discussions about making Eastern Idaho Technical College a full-featured community college,” Gov. Otter said in his State of the State speech in January. “I encourage serious public consideration of the benefits and opportunities that a local community college can provide to that region of Idaho.”

A ballot initiative requesting the formation of a community college taxing district will need a super majority, or 66.67 percent approval, to pass.

A 1991 ballot effort to create a community college in Eastern Idaho failed, according to Idaho Education News.

You can watch the full debate in the video below.

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

News Team


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content