Opin­ion clears col­lege to build out­side district

Rut­ledge says NWACC can use lo­cal taxes to build cen­ter

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE PEROZEK

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.

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