© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WOSP-FM 91.5 Portsmouth is off the air. In the meantime listen online or with the WOSU mobile app.

Columbus State Community College Putting Bond Request On Ballot For First Time

Columbus State President David Harrison in the school's transfer center.
Nick Evans
/
WOSU
Columbus State President David Harrison in the school's transfer center.

Columbus State Community College has a growing slate of deferred maintenance required for old buildings, and a wishlist of new facilities to build. For the first time, the school is asking voters to borrow money to help pay for capital needs around campus.

If passed during the March 17 election, bond issue 21 would raise some $300 million, paid off with local property taxes. Franklin County property taxes would go up by .65 mills over the next 24 years—that comes out to just under $2 a month for a $100,000 home.

School leaders, and a laundry list of local organizations, say the funding is sorely needed, but others question relying on local property owners for the improvements.

“We’re standing on a tunnel,” explains Columbus State president David Harrison, “that during the last capital process was collapsing.”

Behind the temporary chain link fencing is a parking lot crawling with workers busily making repairs.

“The problem with the tunnels collapsing is the roof of the tunnel is a sidewalk,” Harrison says. “So we immediately had to repurpose what we were going to invest in classrooms to fix these tunnels. So it’s, again, an example of the tradeoffs that are happening every day.”

Harrison sees those tradeoffs all over campus. In Aquinas Hall, the school’s oldest building, two cubicles too many crowd the tiny office where students plan transfers to four-year universities.

In Delaware Hall, they’ve been renovating one classroom at a time. But the 100,000 square-foot building now needs a new roof. That $2 million job will have to take precedence.

Desha Caldwell graduates in May, and plans to transfer to Ohio State University to study public health. Caldwell says voters might quibble over the amount, but Columbus State has shown it makes good use of the money it receives.

“I will say that this school has done a really good job at using the money they’ve been given to do a lot and impact a lot,” Caldwell says. “I know for me, I probably would not be in college if it weren’t for the support and the initiatives that people here at Columbus State have allowed me to be a part of.”

Dan McCormick member of Taxpayers Advocating Fair Taxation.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
/
WOSU
Dan McCormick member of Taxpayers Advocating Fair Taxation.

Like any local levy, the measure has its opponents. The organization Taxpayers Advocating Fair Taxation has successfully opposed a handful of high-profile tax issues in recent years.

One of its members, Dan McCormick, admits Columbus State is important to the community, and is sympathetic to their facility needs. But he still opposes relying on local property taxes to cover improvements.

“Even if it’s merited, that responsibility lies with the state, not with each individual county,” McCormick says. “Every county has somebody enrolled at Columbus State. So there are 88 counties, 88 of them are enrolled at Columbus State, but only one of them is being asked to pick up the tab.”

Another opponent, Carla Edlefson, used to teach higher education finance at Ashland University and worked in higher education policy on former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste’s staff. She says funding community college through property taxes is a dead end.

“In Franklin County, we have a lot of people and a lot of property to tax, so the burden can be shared,” Edlefson argues. “But what about places like Hocking Technical College, which is in a rural area, where there aren’t very many people to tax? It puts them at a disadvantage if we’re going to fund community colleges through property tax.”

Carla Edlefson used to teach higher education policy and worked in the Celeste administration.
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
/
WOSU
Carla Edlefson used to teach higher education policy and worked in the Celeste administration.

Over the past 10 years, Columbus State has received $5 million a year on average in the state capital budget. Edlefson believes that’s the problem—saying it’s about enough the change the light bulbs.

Meanwhile, Harrison says it’s not just the amount, but the two-year capital budgeting cycle, that limits the college.

“What it doesn’t allow you to do is to think long-term, and this would allow us to work with our community to really put together a 10-year-plus plan and really start to anticipate what’s next,” Harrison says.

Columbus State has an eye-popping list of civic and business leaders as well as local officials backing its cause, and even Issue 21’s opponents appreciate the institution. Convincing voters to part with their money, though, is always an uphill climb.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.