Columbia, Boone County propose sales tax to offset costs of technical education

Thursday, June 4, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The task force designed to look at increasing adult technical education in Columbia and Boone County is planning its next steps and looking for money.

One source for the money could be a sales tax increase in Boone County.

Fourth Ward City Councilman Jerry Wade said state law would allow revenue from a new sales tax to help offset the cost of adult technical education programs. Wade said the amount of any new tax would be determined by a study group.

"We have a huge gap in our education infrastructure," Wade said. "We can't be successful if we don't fill this gap."

Technical education programs help train adults for various employment opportunities in the community. Classes include subjects such as computers, food service and business.

Raising county taxes is one way to pay for increased technical education. The idea came from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

Don Laird, Chamber president, said the group is just throwing out the idea.

The county will look at the issue and possibly put together another committee to investigate a sales tax increase.

"We think it's a good idea, but we know it's very early in the process," Laird said of the tax increase, which would be subject to approval by voters.

Boone County Commissioner Ken Pearson said the tax could be used for technical education under a state law that authorizes the use of sales tax revenue for job creation.

The task force also is considering whether to look for money through the federally funded Workforce Investment Network. But Pearson said a sales tax would be the best mechanism for funding adult technical education because it generates more revenue and allows more flexibility in spending.

Wade said the task force wants to ensure it takes no money from Columbia Public Schools.

"It's important that the school district have its forms of funding," Wade said. "The two are complementary, and we need both of them."

Members of the task force, which includes representatives of local government agencies and educational facilities, are working on a preproposal, which would include collecting interviews and data. Wade said this would be done by an objective outside company and will start only after the task force finds the money to pay for it.

The next step for the task force is to conduct a skills-gap analysis to learn what Columbia and Boone County employers think their training needs are going to be, said Arden Boyer-Stephens of the Columbia Area Career Center. Boyer-Stephens is a member of the task force. The career center is operated by Columbia Public Schools.

"We need some data first before we do anything else," Boyer-Stephens said.

The career center provides most of the technical training in the community and is involved in the task force because it wants to more fully meet the training needs of the community, Boyer-Stephens said.

Columbia School Board President Jan Mees said she thinks it's important that adult technical education be a collaborative effort between the task force and the school district.

Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean of academic affairs for Columbia College, is working with the task force to see if the college can offer adult technical education classes. Columbia College is giving input for the proposal from a liberal arts and sciences point of view.

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