CHEYENNE —Two college financial issues failed in this month’s special elections.

Voters solidly rejected a community college bond issue in Laramie County and a sales tax increase in Campbell County.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given the state’s pallid economic condition and with the Legislature mucking around with other tax notions.

The lawmakers have been looking at a slew of taxes, including property taxes — which pay for community college construction projects — and a variety of other levies on alcohol, beer, cigarettes and services.

They are trying to put together a package that will make up for a $700 million or so loss of revenues for K-12 schools in the coming biennium.

There never may be a good time for an election that raises taxes, but this was a really bad time.

The Laramie County bond election was for a $29.5 million Laramie County Community College construction package, including renovations to the Fine Arts Building and Recreation and Athletic Center, and construction of a 350-bed residence hall, and a 450-seat performance hall.

The latter project was contingent on getting matching funds from the Legislature.

Trustees said the Cheyenne college has a waiting list for on-campus dorm rooms, hence the need.

In Campbell County, voters were asked to approve a quarter cent excise tax for the Gillette community college and for economic development.

The tax would have freed the city of Gillette and Campbell County of an obligation estimated at $855,000 to support the college.

It would also have helped offset a $900,000 shortfall the college faces because of cuts in grants, according to published reports.

Both county ballot propositions failed miserably with about 60 percent of voters opposed and only 40 percent in favor.

In Campbell County’s case, it was undoubtedly the economy that doomed the new tax. The mineral producing county has been among the hardest hit with the slowdown in the coal industry in particular.

In Laramie County, the bond issue had a number of problems from the beginning.

The trustees decided against spending $7,500 to set up a polling place in the county building for absentee balloting in the special election.

Without that convenience, absentee voters had to obtain their ballots from the county clerk’s office and mail them in or deliver them in person.

Yet, the penny-pinching decision probably had only a slight effect. About 150 fewer voters cast ballots this year than had voted in the successful 2013 college bond election. Only 22 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2017 election.

—Laramie County property owners are still paying off college bonds approved in that 2013 special election.The $29.5 million package paid for construction of the Flexible Technology Building and the Pathfinder Building.

—The college bond election took place only six months after Laramie County voters balloted on a special one percent purpose tax to finance projects in the county, Cheyenne, Albin, Burns and Pine Bluffs. College officials concluded that one reason the bond election failed was it was came too close behind the May special purpose tax election.

—The project also lost some votes when residents learned that the plans included elimination of the college swimming pool which would be replaced with classrooms.

The pool, the only community pool in South Cheyenne, offered water exercise classes for seniors in addition to student and staff use.

One trustee reported receiving 50 phone calls from people complaining about the plan too close the pool.

Seniors are big on voting.

This year’s vote was almost a total reversal of the 2013 bond election ballot, which was approved by nearly 60 percent of the vote and about 40 percent opposed.

The 2013 package was focused on academic construction projects.

Laramie County voters clearly were not in the mood this time to pay for a student dormitory or amenities like a performance hall.

Cheyenne voters, in particular, have proven more than once at the polls their resistance to a recreation center.

The Laramie County Community College trustees, bless ‘em, were overly optimistic about the mood of the taxpayers. They may try again later when the timing is better.

Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron@bresnan.net.

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