During these times of tumultuous policy debates and discussions, people often resort to abandoning facts and distorting truths to incite fear. They then use that fear to garner support for their arguments.
Unfortunately, a prime target of this tactic in Delaware is Senate Bill 50, Delaware’s community college solution to a $100 million deferred maintenance crisis. Delawareans deserve to have the history and facts about this legislation, which will benefit not only the students at Delaware Technical Community College, but also the residents and businesses that depend on Delaware Tech’s skilled graduates.
For more than 50 years, Delaware Technical Community College has been preparing students for the local workforce. Last year, the college served more than 33,500 individuals at our four campuses and awarded 1,709 associate degrees, with 97 percent of those graduates now working or continuing their education.
Over the past half-century, Delaware Tech has expanded from its start on one campus to now encompass 352 acres in four locations with more than 40 buildings totaling 1.3 million square feet of space. Half of those buildings are more than 40 years old, and based on industry standards, we should be reinvesting $12 million per year simply to keep them safe and operable. However, the annual amount we receive from the State capital budget covers only a fraction of that amount.
Clearly, the current financing structure is not working. For that reason, the college’s deferred maintenance costs have more than doubled since 2006, and are expected to exceed $100 million by next year.
While Delaware’s public school districts and two other public institutions of higher education can raise additional capital funds through issuing bonds, referenda or endowments, Delaware Tech’s only source of revenue for capital projects is the State capital budget.
The solution is Senate Bill 50. This legislation, released from Senate committee last month, would create a Community College Infrastructure Fund (CCIF) that would give Delaware Tech the authority to issue bonds similar to public schools and the state’s other two public higher education institutions. In addition, it would raise county revenues through a modest property tax for campus projects based on local need, with the money raised in each county staying in that county.
The use of a county property tax to benefit Delaware students is not new or unprecedented. Delaware’s three vocational school districts have used this same funding method for decades to fund not only capital needs, but also operating expenses. And approximately 70 percent of community colleges nationwide receive local support, largely through property taxes, in addition to state appropriations.
Establishing a CCIF would support more than $110 million in construction projects, a potential boon to local businesses. Delaware Tech values the support we receive from the construction industry, and we make a point to hire as many state contractors as possible to work on our capital projects.
For just pennies a day, the CCIF would enable the college to maintain high-tech facilities that prepare thousands of Delawareans each year to serve in the fields of health care, IT, manufacturing, energy and law-enforcement, among many others.
When our students are trained in state-of-the-art facilities, employers tell us they are job-ready for Delaware’s high-demand industries, earning salaries that allow them to take care of their families and give back to our communities.
The modest property tax included in SB 50 would be phased in over several years, with implementation in 2021 at an average annual cost to property owners of $10.89 in New Castle County, $6.58 in Kent County and $3.69 in Sussex County. When fully implemented at 6.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, the maximum average cost to property owners would be $47.19 in New Castle County (home to two Delaware Tech campuses), $25.15 in Kent County and $13.33 in Sussex County.
Again, the full implementation would occur over several years, and the increases would only occur as the projects demand — not automatically double, as some have alleged. Frankly, it is a small price to pay to address an issue that has become a crisis at Delaware Tech.
And while a recent editorial claimed that SB 50 would negatively affect school districts attempting to pass referenda, recent history proves the opposite. School referenda have succeeded in both New Castle and Sussex counties since 2015, when the General Assembly passed not one, but two, separate bills that raised property taxes for the New Castle County Vo-Tech and Sussex Tech school districts.
Again, the facts matter in this debate.
To better serve all Delaware students, we need to address the long-standing capital issue on the college’s four campuses. Please contact your legislators and tell them you support this modest investment that will benefit Delaware students and our local economy for the next generation.
By Dr. Mark T. Brainard, President
Delaware Technical Community College