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Colfax resident requests referendum in November for tech school funding

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  Terry Nichols of Colfax has been before the Dunn County Board so many times to request a non-binding referendum on technical school funding that even he is not sure how many times it has been.

“I’m back for the fifth or sixth time to ask for a non-binding referendum question on the November ballot,” Nichols told the Dunn County Board during the public comments portion of the July 30 meeting.

The non-binding referendum question that Nichols would like to see during the November election would ask voters if technical school funding should be shifted to the state level and funded in a similar fashion to the University of Wisconsin system.

An appointed board of directors currently determines the budget for technical schools.

And therein lies the rub.

The tech school board of directors can borrow money and can collect money by putting it on the property tax bills of local taxpayers — but local taxpayers cannot elect the representatives on the technical college board.

The system of an appointed board of directors that can levy property taxes amounts to taxation without representation, Nichols said.

A board of directors authorized to levy property taxes also governs local public school districts.

The difference between a local school board and a tech school board, however, is that local taxpayers elect the representatives they want on the school board.

For about a decade, Nichols has been waging his campaign to change the funding for the technical school system by writing letters to the editor, speaking at budget hearings and meetings, and attending county board meetings.

“It’s a local taxation fairness issue,” Nichols said, noting that he is particularly concerned about elderly residents on fixed incomes.

Attending technical school is purely a personal choice, but the taxpayers have no choice about who represents them on the tech school system board of directors, he said.

The state recently distributed $28 million to technical schools, and Chippewa Valley Technical College received $1.2 million, Nichols said.

Curious as to how much CVTC has borrowed, Nichols said an open records request revealed that the tech school currently has $13.3 million in general obligation bonds that go directly onto local property tax bills.

Nichols noted that the Dunn County Board recently passed resolutions for non-binding referendum questions in November dealing with whether the state should accept federal Medicaid money and whether the United States Constitution should be amended to declare that money is not free speech and corporations are not people.

Dunn County residents deserve to have a voice in November, too, about the funding of the technical college system, Nichols said.