Blackhawk Technical College President Dr. Thomas Eckert says the college wants to offer more education option to people of the area so they can improve their job skills and advance in their careers.
That is why Blackhawk Technical College will have a referendum question on the Aug. 12 election ballot asking voter to allow the BTC district to exceed its operational budget spending limit by $4 million.
Eckert said BTC wants to explore new programs that can translate into new jobs for the people of the area, and offer flexible scheduling of classes for people who have to work during the week.
“We certainly want to offer more weekend and evening services,” Eckert said. “We want to have the ability to open more section of existing programs and explore new programing.”
Also there some safety issues the district wants to address at the central campus. Specifically, BTC wants to improve fire suppression efforts by making improvements to the water system on campus.
Blackhawk Technical College operates four campuses — The central campus between Beloit and Janesville, the Monroe campus, the Beloit facility at the Eclipse Center and the auto and transportation facility in Janesville. Blackhawk Technical College also is in the process of establishing a manufacturing training facility in Milton. Half of that facility is scheduled to open in the fall and the rest of the facility will open the following year, Eckert said.
BTC’s operational levy is about $16 million, Eckert said. If the referendum is approved, that would bring that figure up to about $20 millions. However, thanks to legislation passed this year, the relief from the spending limit should not result in a tax increase for homeowners, Eckert said.
Act 145 made several tax changes. The act caps local tax revenue that can be received by technical college districts, while increasing state aid to technical college districts. The hope is that the two items together will have the effect of reducing local property taxes. Eckert estimated the average reduction local taxpayers will see for the BTC portion of their tax bill will be around 35.4 percent.
The Blackhawk Technical College District spans most of Rock and Green counties. That is a wide area to cover to promote the referendum, Eckert said.
“We are going to try in a variety of ways to get the word out,” he said. “We want to explain, ‘here’s what we’re going to do with the money and here’s why.’”
BTC has experienced a string of challenges over the last several years. When General Motors in Janesville closed, enrollment at the technical college surged by about 54 percent. It reached its highest level in the fall of 2010. Since then enrollment has started to cycle down, but it still is fairly high, Eckert said.
In 2011, the state initiated a tax levy freeze for technical colleges. With high enrollment and the spending freeze, the only option for BTC was to make cuts. Eckert said BTC had to let go about 20 people as it made budget cuts.
BTC initially explored placing a referendum on the April election ballot, but that plan was postponed as the technical college district tried to find out what the support level was for a referendum. A survey was sent out to residents in December to gauge the support for a referendum.