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Cowley College could expand to Wellington
Cowley County Community College would like to build a satellite campus in Wellington, but there is one big obstacle. Sumner County residents would have to pass a half-cent sales tax for 10 years to help support the facility.
It is a project the the city of Wellington and the chamber of commerce support. The Sumner County Commission would have to approve getting the matter on the ballot to let voters decide, and they have not yet decided whether to or not.
County Commissioner Jim Newell said he was open to seeing what people have to say and letting them vote on the sales tax.
“I feel like taxes are high enough. I am not sure I would vote for it but I would like to see what taxpayers say about it,” he said.
Commissioners are considering letting it be on the November ballot in this year's election.
Also on the ballot in November will be a half-cent measure for health care – not related to the hospital. Proponents of the program fear people would be deciding which one to support.
Wellington Mayor Shelley Hansel wants it to go to a vote. She and the city council are encouraging the county to put it on the ballot regardless of when.
“People need to be able to vote on this. I would be disappointed if it didn't pass, but I could live with that if our voters were against it,” she said.
The city is leaning toward giving the county's economic development organization $42,000, and she said the city also needs to support that group in other ways as well.
Hansel believes expanding Cowley College into Wellington – and Sumner County – would be a great thing for the county and for the city. It would bring in some revenue, and it would provide training for people who could get jobs at area factories.
At the city work session this week, it was noted that some businesses in Wellington that require a lot of technical knowledge are having trouble finding qualified employees. One thing Cowley could do would be to fit classes to meet some of those needs.
“I know it is a higher sales tax, and I get it if big ticket items are going to cost more. But the bottom line is this is a once in a lifetime event for us to get a game changing development,” she said.
Having a junior college satellite campus in Wellington would also attract students from Harper County, which is an area Cowley officials feel will be a good market for them.
Wellington Chamber Director Annarose White has been involved in some of the talks, and said the community college based in Arkansas City has done studies to see where it might best expand its services. They have a facility in Mulvane, as well as Wichita. But the studies have shown Wellington is a better fit for Cowley to expand in to Sumner and Harper Counties, she said.
Cowley wants to build three buildings to offer classes and may even build dormitories. They feel renting existing buildings will not give them the capability to adapt the buildings to meet the needs of what they want to teach. Cowley is interested in agriculture and industrial machine technology training.
White said the college sent a request to the county commission, asking for the sales tax initiative to be put on the ballot so they could expand into the county. In Cowley County the college is supported by a property tax levy. They are asking for a sales tax funding for Sumner County.
The county commission considered the measure at its last meeting in June and took no action. They plan to continue discussing the idea.
If the sales tax is passed, Cowley would feel comfortable with continuing its expansion and could buld a $37 million facility in Wellington.
White said Sumner County has had a decrease in population in recent years, and if Cowley College expanded into Sumner County, it could reverse that trend and build the local economy.
County economic development director Stacy Davis, at a recent Wellington City Council meeting, said Cowley needs to know there is support for the idea in Wellington and Sumner County. She said there are companies in Wellington now who want to expand but cannot find trained employees, and Cowley College could help with that.