Campbell County commissioners have tentatively approved a little more than $1 million for Gillette College for the next budget year.
The college had requested $1,059,000, but with commissioners wanting to “hold the line” with the budget, it will get the same amount as this current fiscal year.
The $1,004,000 includes $120,000 for an engineering professor, who will be recruited and hired by the University of Wyoming to teach at least one engineering course at Gillette College each term.
The money will come out of the county’s Optional 1% Sales Tax. This, along with the rest of the county’s funding requests, is pending approval of the final budget this summer.
In 2018-19, the county approved $820,000 for the college.
As commissioners talked about the college during a budget meeting Monday, it led to a larger discussion aboout finding a stable funding mechanism for the college.
Commissioner Bob Maul said although he supported the amount the county is giving to the college, he fears that if something doesn’t change in the next few years, it’s only going to set the college up for a very difficult time.
“What happens when we take the big fall off the edge and nobody gets nothing? We’re going to have that happen down the line,” he said.
Commissioner Del Shelstad said that “it’s tragic” for the college to operate each year wondering whether it will get money from the city and county because of the turnover on the Commission and City Council after each election.
“How do we put together a plan that says, ‘We want the college to have (stable) funding?’” he asked. “Because, I think we all do, but in the back of my mind, the people have already said no.”
In 2017, a special election for a quarter-penny tax for Gillette College and Energy Capital Economic Development failed.
“I was all in for the quarter-penny, and I still wish to this day that would’ve passed, but it didn’t,” Shelstad said.
“If we want to fund them more, which I’d like to see, we should put it on a ballot,” he said. “I really think if the people had a chance to decide ... they would vote to fund the college.”
But it’s easier said than done. County Administrative Director Carol Seeger said the county has asked the state Attorney General’s Office whether a specific-purpose excise tax to create an endowment fund for the college could be placed on a ballot.
The city of Gillette has had the opinion that this is not allowed, she said.
State law allows local governments to put a sales tax on the ballot to raise money to support economic development. What it comes down to is whether the city and county believe Gillette College is a form of economic development, Seeger said.
“Everybody must have agreed that it was for it to be part of the ballot last time,” she said. “I don’t know why everybody thinks that you absolutely have to have the money run through the economic development corporation (that) gets a piece of it.”
Another option is creating a new community college district, something that Commissioner Colleen Faber supported.
“I want the college to have a permanent way to know (how much money it will get) from year to year,” she said.
For that to happen, it would need to go to the voters for approval. The minimum mill levy is 4 mills. If the commissioners believe that the 4 mills needed to start a college district is too big of an ask for the community, they need to ask the Legislature to lower that minimum, Seeger said.
Commission Chairman D.G. Reardon said he believes it’s too late to get something put on the ballot this year.
Most years, Campbell County has not taxed the full 12 mills the state allows each county. Shelstad wondered if the county could tax 12 mills and give the additional money to the college. Seeger said it’s up to the commissioners whether they want to do that, but that it wouldn’t hurt to get public input.