(Gillette, Wyo.) Taxes. Just to mentioning that word could spark a heated debate, particularly within the Gillette community. Residents appear to be divided on their decision to either support or vote down the idea of an excise tax to fund the local community college.
“It’s pretty split, 50-50, from what I’ve heard,” said Jeff Turkowski, a current Gillette College student. “Being a student and all, nobody wants more taxes. But as soon as you get into the details on what it actually does, it changes a lot of minds.”
The details Turkowski mentioned would be how those tax dollars will be spent. Citizens do not always feel their concerns are taken into consideration.
Gillette College CEO Dr. Englert agrees that the public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and explained how the college would use the proposed excise tax should voters ultimately approve the measure.
“The tax is used to operate the college,” Englert said. “We have needs. We’re better than a million short during the last two years with respect to our budget.”
According to Englert, the utilities cost has gone up at the college by an estimated $150,000 with the addition of the new Pronghorn Center and the new dormitories constructed last year.
“We absolutely have to cover utilities. It’s gotta go to maintenance,” Englert said. “We have deferred maintenance right now on campus that really needs to be addressed,” such as the colleges parking lot and technology in the Technical Education Center.
Englert said the college is understaffed, with half of the faculty “overloaded.” To deal with this, the demands on faculty have greatly increased.
“We just can’t put that burden on faculty to double up loads on a regular basis, or we’re gonna burn them out. It’s unfair to students, and it’s unfair to faculty,” he explained.
In addition to adding faculty, the college is looking to expand its programs. To be able to provide funding for those programs, it needs an increase in revenue.
While some revenue increases have come from increased tuition rates, tuition only covers an estimated 28 percent of the college’s operating expenses. Turkowski said current revenues would not fund future growth.
“We are already the lowest tuition college in the nation–one of the lowest. It doesn’t provide us with a lot of opportunity outside of what we are already doing,” Turkowski said.
The area that he would like to see the college move into, would be a different aspect of the coal industry. Turkowski feels that while the coal industry could experience a slight rise in the coming years, eventually things will have to change.
“Where’s the research for that going to come from?” Turkowski asked. He advocated strongly that the research for the ITC could potentially come from the planned STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) center at the college.
“We could literally make Gillette a billion dollar industry based upon investing in just the research going into a type of business like that,” he said.
An investment in Gillette College, is an investment in the community as a whole, according to Turkowski.
Gillette residents need not fear the possibility of Campbell County tax revenue going to Sheridan County. Dr. Englert said sales tax dollars do, in fact, stay local.
“When the current sales tax is levied in Campbell County, its distributed back to the City of Gillette, Campbell County, and the Town of Wright,” Englert said. “This tax will be treated just the same way.”