Backers of a $180 million bond for College of Western Idaho say they had little money and even less time to convince voters that they needed to tax themselves to expand the Nampa campus and build a new campus in Boise.
Though 57 percent of the voters in Ada and Canyon counties supported the bond Tuesday, CWI fell well short of the required two-thirds majority.
“I think we did pretty well,” said Mark Dunham, a trustee who worked on the campaign. “We did better than several other bond initiatives. I am pretty hopeful that our reputation will help us do something different later.”
We are not looking just to turn around and say we’ll just do it over again. Let’s thoughtfully and strategically sit down and plan what our next steps are.
Bert Glandon, CWI president
Never miss a local story.
Trustees and school officials will huddle later this month to plan a path forward that could include alternative ways to pay for the project, rather than solely relying on taxpayers. Officials say they haven’t had time to sift through the voting data since the election. But one possibility could be asking business partners for help, said Bert Glandon, CWI president.
He expects trustees to look at results and consider what approach to take in January. Options could include asking voters to pass a new bond measure in May, said Emily Walton, a trustee. CWI can hold bond elections only in May and November, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.
TOP OF THE LIST
CWI wanted a health-science building and a student center for academic counseling and other services on its Nampa campus at 5500 E. Opportunity Drive, and construction of the first building in a new permanent campus in Boise at Main Street and Whitewater Park Boulevard.
“Our No. 1 priority is the health-sciences building,” Glandon said.
The structure would pull classes out of rented space in Ada and Canyon counties to a single location on the Nampa campus. A building would come as Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s are constructing hospitals minutes from the college. The hospitals could need more than 1,000 employees, Glandon said.
While CWI has not made a specific plan, Glandon said there is precedent for a structure that is built with support other than tax money.
CWI’s Micron Professional-Technical Center, located in the old Sam’s Club building near Garrity Boulevard north of Interstate 84 in Nampa, was renovated at a cost of $16.9 million, with $12.9 million donated by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and $2.5 million from the Micron Foundation.
In September, just two months before the election, CWI’s board decided to ask voters for money on Nov. 8.
20,000 Enrollment at College of Western Idaho eight years after the school opened with 1,200 students
The trustees’ campaign did not have the broad vocal support of Treasure Valley industries that stepped up in 2007 in a monthslong, $300,000 campaign to convince voters to create the community college district that led to CWI.
Businesses backed creating the college to better train students for jobs in the Treasure Valley. That 2007 vote, which relied heavily on getting absentee ballots to likely college supporters, got 68 percent approval — just better than the two-thirds needed.
A QUIET CAMPAIGN
This time around, bond backers didn’t put together a campaign like in 2007. Without such financial resources, Dunham and others put together a website and used social media to get the word out about the bond.
“It was a very low-key campaign,” he said.
The campaign had about $20,000 this time around, from private donors. Contributions to such campaigns are not subject to Idaho’s campaign finance reporting requirements.
Trustees believed polling conducted in the spring that showed about 62 percent of residents would support the $180 million bond, said Guy Hurlbutt, a board member whose term ends this month. Trustees believed the college was well-known and respected, which also would help.
Backers were determined to get the issue on the November ballot, believing the general election would turn out a large group of voters, including young people likely to support CWI.
“It was a gamble,” Dunham said.
At the final tally, 59 percent of voters in Ada County and 49 percent in Canyon County supported the bond.
DID CWI’S BIG ASK HURT OTHERS?
Tuesday’s election turned out to be a bad time for other bonds across the Treasure Valley as well.
Voters in the Meridian area gave a thumbs-down to the construction of two libraries and two public swimming pools. Meridian Library District got 59 percent approval for its $12 million bond proposal, the same percentage as its bond measure in November 2015. A $20 million bond for the Western Ada Recreation District barely got a majority of voters and was about 16 percentage points away from the required two-thirds majority.
CWI’s late election entry after the other two agencies had committed affected those measures, their backers said.
“The massive CWI bond, (that) probably hurt it the most of anything,” said Aaron Elton, a member of Friends for Meridian’s Future, which backed the pools.
“It really hurt in Meridian to have all three together,” said Gretchen Caserotti, Meridian Library District executive director.
College of Western Idaho opened in 2009 after voters in Ada and Canyon counties approved creating the college district in 2007.
Dunham said he didn’t know the other bonds were being proposed.
“Certainly it would be nice if all these entities would have coordinated these bonds ... so taxpayers would have an idea about the impact,” he said.
Exactly where CWI goes next is up for discussion. CWI’s need is not, Dunham said.
“We still need to meet the needs of local business, so that is my bottom line,” he said.
Will election results affect Boise School District 2017 plans?
The Boise School District is proposing to ask voters March 14 for $172.5 million in construction bonds to upgrade or replace aging buildings.
The amount is just $7.5 million less than the $180 million bond rejected Nov. 8 by Ada and Canyon county voters to expand the College of Western Idaho.
District officials say one difference between their plan and CWI’s is that a new Boise school bond is not likely to increase the tax rate on Boise property tax bills, because of a variety of favorable factors.
CWI’s bond, had it passed, would have increased the district property tax rates by an estimated $22.31 per $100,000 of taxable value.
District officials say they see nothing initially in voter rejection of Tuesday’s three bonds — CWI’s, Western Ada Recreation District and Meridian Library District’s — that would lead them to change their bond plans or date.
Trustees are expected to decide Monday on whether to hold a bond election in March.
By next spring, College of Western Idaho could find the bond landscape changed if it decides to seek a $180 million bond in May. By then, Boise School District voters will have rendered their decision on Boise’s $172.5 million plan.