by Nathan Boddy
The Hamilton City Council began its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 5th with a presentation by Marci Smith, Chair of the Bitterroot Valley Community College (BVCC) Board of Trustees, and Jo Gmazel of the BVCC Foundation. Their presentation was given to highlight the upcoming ballot, which will present voters in Ravalli County with an opportunity to vote on a mill levy in support of the Bitterroot Valley Community College. The proposed mill levy would be permanent, and would raise property taxes approximately $26 on a home with a taxable value of $200,000.
Smith reminded the council that the State Legislature, in the last biennium, granted a Community College district to the Bitterroot Valley. That measure, which was supported by all the Bitterroot Valley’s legislators, means that the Bitterroot Valley Community College is the first created within the state in 53 years. The BVCC will join Havre, Flathead Valley and Miles City as the state’s fourth community college. Its existence, however, is still in its infancy and would need established funding in order to grow and prosper.
“What we have down on Main Street is a program of the University of Montana,” said Smith. “It is not a community college. A lot of people have had that confusion for many years.” Smith was referring to the Bitterroot College, a program that has functioned within the valley for 12 years, but which remains under the control of the University of Montana. Both Smith and Gmazel cited studies that quantify the economic impact of a legitimate community college rather than a program of the University. Gmazel said that a functioning community college would have far greater autonomy than the current UM program, allowing for a customized design of programs and offerings that currently don’t exist. Additionally, Gmazel cited a study by Economic Modeling Specialists International on the benefits of community colleges.
“For every dollar that our local taxpayers spend on this, it’s proven that 6.86 come back to the community either in services saved, or taxes paid by those jobs filled by the students,” said Gmazel, adding that the upcoming mill levy could provide that local control as well as the economic benefits. The issue will be on the upcoming ballot which is due on May 3rd.
Also during the April 5 meeting, City Planner Matthew Rohrbach sought the council’s approval of a contract with Epcon Sign Company for the installation of vehicular and bicycle way-finding signs to be installed within the city. The contract will be largely funded by grants secured by the city for the purpose of improving clarity and flow within city limits.
“The priority really was getting better direction to downtown and to the parks,” said Rohrbach. “I think this really achieves a lot of our goals as far as way-finding.”
Approval of the signage contract was not the council’s only big decision on Tuesday. They also voted to proceed with the construction of the new fire hall, a project which now only awaits the approval of the Montana Board of Investments in order for the city to secure funding for that portion of the fire hall which requires a loan.