Opinion clears college to build outside district
Rutledge says NWACC can use local taxes to build center
BENTONVILLE — Northwest Arkansas Community College may use local tax dollars to build and operate an instructional center outside the district from which it raises that money, at least under certain circumstances, according to an opinion released this week by state attorney general Leslie Rutledge.
Rutledge emphasized the college should consult its own attorneys before deciding how to use its money in such a way.
State Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, requested the opinion on behalf of the college.
Jim Hall, the college’s director of government and community relations, said the college sought the opinion as legislators were developing what’s known as the Workforce Development Center Authority Act.
Act 509, originally Senate Bill 288, allows school districts to pool resources into regional workforce training centers where students may gain vocational skills. The bill was sponsored by Hendren’s son Jim Hendren, a
state senator from Sulphur Springs.
Colleges initially weren’t included in development of the bill, Hall said. The act now stipulates a two- or fouryear public college or university that operates or has been approved to operate a “secondary vocational center” may participate.
Northwest Arkansas Community College doesn’t have a secondary vocational center, but does offer programs in construction trades, heating and air installation and repair and other vocations. College officials have said they may contract with a regional workforce center to teach those classes.
The Bentonville, Decatur, Gentry and Gravette school districts, through a partnership called the Western Benton Career Consortium, have discussed building a career center. Those districts have pushed for such a center to support students whose career interests don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree, especially in fields where there is a big demand for workers.
It’s unclear yet how involved the college would be in the career center, but the college wanted clarification it could apply its money there, Hall said.
Kim Hendren said he has been a longtime supporter of the college and of career and vocational education. One of his main concerns is keeping residents’ property taxes from going much higher than they are.
“I hope (the college) along with the school districts will work to maximize opportunities for youth and minimize the necessity of raising people’s property taxes,” he said.
Hendren asked Rutledge whether a state- operated community college supported by a local property tax
millage and state revenue may use that local millage to construct and operate an instructional center outside its taxing district.
Generally, the answer is yes, Rutledge wrote. State law “plainly contemplates that a community college may locate additional facilities within its service area, but outside its district, in order to serve the educational needs of the state and its district,” according to her letter.
“And there is no clear constitutional or statutory restriction or limitation that would prevent a community college such as NWACC from using its local millage funds to construct and operate such facilities,” she wrote.
The college collects tax dollars through a millage applied to residents of the Bentonville and Rogers school districts.
Rutledge’s opinion may have implications on another project the college is working on, the Washington County Center in Springdale.
The college long has aimed to build a facility in Springdale that would be more accessible to Washington County residents. The college acquired land for the facility next to Arvest Ballpark in 2014 and is now working on raising money to build it. As of last fall, the college had raised $3.6 million toward the $15 million officials have said is needed for construction.
Officials have said they can’t use money from the millage to build the Springdale facility. Hall said he didn’t know whether Rutledge’s opinion applied to the Washington County Center, reiterating the college sought her opinion solely because of the Workforce Development Center Authority Act.
Evelyn Jorgenson, the college’s president, is traveling this week. She couldn’t be reached for comment.