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$80 Million Referendum Largest Ever for Western

Written By Patrick B. Anderson
Courtesy of the La Crosse Tribune
July 24, 2012

Full story also found on La Crosse Tribune website

Western Technical College’s appeal to voters for $79.8 million marks the biggest referendum in the school’s 100-year history.

The referendum will appear on the Nov. 6 election ballot. If it passes, Western officials will borrow beyond state funding limits to upgrade a number of academic buildings.

Newer facilities are a key part of Western’s plans to add nearly 1,000 students, cut energy costs and improve programming for students and employers, officials say.

“Industry has changed,” said Mike Pieper, Western’s vice president of finance and operations. “We’re trying to keep up with that.”

The referendum would add to a base property tax rate that is already one of the highest in the state for a technical college. Western’s tax rate is high because the college serves a large number of students in a rural area, with lower property values and a smaller tax base, officials say.

“If we had less students, we’d have less costs, less levy,” Pieper said.

Western is one of two institutions in the Wisconsin Technical College System with a tax rate set at the legal maximum of $1.50 for each $1,000 in property value. Debt pushes it higher. In the 2011-12 school year, property owners paid $209.71 for every $100,000 of assessed value.

Yearly taxes would increase $39 on homes worth $100,000 if the referendum passed.

Western officials cut staff and programming when the college lost about $2 million in state aid last year. The referendum will allow the school to better answer employers’ cries for skilled labor, despite state budget cuts, officials say.

The money would fund six building projects, including a $32.6 million addition to the technology center.

Plans for an “integrated” technology center would bring together programs scattered across campus and house them under one roof. A combined learning space helps increase the potential for student collaboration, Pieper said.

“Now, the student that’s learning to design a part can be next to a student that’s fabricating a part, next to a student that’s welding on the part,” Pieper said.

Proposed improvements also include remodeling Coleman Center for $26.5 million for general education classrooms, and $10.1 million to upgrade Kumm Center’s health and science facilities.

If the referendum passes, officials plan to start construction in June.

Published on July 24th, 2012