Colfax man asks for referendum on technical school funding

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — For the third time, Terry Nichols of Colfax has asked the Dunn County Board to hold a non-binding referendum on the issue of technical school funding.

Nichols spoke to the Dunn County Board during the public comments portion of the January 15 meeting.

For a little more than ten years, Nichols has been writing letters to the editor, speaking and attending various meetings about technical school funding.

At issue is that taxpayers pay for technical school funding through an assessment on their property tax bills, but technical school board members are all appointed and are not elected.

Since the board members are appointed but they have taxing authority to levy property taxes, the system amounts to taxation without representation, Nichols said.

Nichols recently attended a hearing in Madison on AB177 that would change technical school funding from the local level to the state level, in much the same way that the university system is funded.

The funding for technical schools “should go through the state level,” Nichols said.

Nichols also testified on the technical school funding issue at the Joint Finance Committee’s budget hearing in Baldwin last spring.

County board members, school board members, local government members and state government representatives and senators are all elected, but members of the technical school boards are appointed, Nichols reiterated.

All public higher education, including attending a technical school, is an individual choice and is not required by state law. Since a tech school education is a personal choice, the funding should not be placed on the local property tax bills, he said.

The population in Dunn County is growing older, and senior citizens on fixed incomes should not have to directly pay for technical schools with their property taxes when a tech school education is an individual choice, Nichols said.

“This is about fairness,” he said.

The technical school district in LaCrosse, over the last several years, has borrowed more than $100 million, he noted.

If government is supposed to be “of, by and for the people, then the county board should want to know what their local constituents think,” Nichols said.

The last time Nichols broached the issue was before the county board’s executive committee in February of 2013.

The executive committee acts as the legislative committee for the county board. The committee would have to authorize a resolution for a referendum question that would then be brought to the county board for consideration.

Nichols is a resident of the Town of Colfax, and over a four-year-period, residents in the Town of Colfax paid over $500,000 toward technical school funding.

In February of last year, the Dunn County Board’s executive committee unanimously approved a motion to not place the referendum question on the ballot for the April election.