Umatilla County voters said ‘no’ to Blue Mountain Community College last month when the school asked for support to build three new workforce development centers. Now, the college wants to know why their request for help was turned down.
To find out, BMCC representatives are holding what they are calling “Listening Forums” and the first place they started was in Hermiston on Tuesday and will continue in Milton-Freewater today. It was those two cities, along with the Athena-Weston area, where voters sunk the bond renewal measure. The bond measure would have funded the construction of three ag-related learning centers: a Center for Sustained Precision Irrigated Agriculture in Hermiston, an Applied Animal Science Center in Pendleton, and an Industrial Processes Workforce & STEM Training Center in Boardman. Had the bond measure passed, taxpayers would have continued to pay the same 31 cents per $1,000 they have been paying since 1999 when voters approved a capital improvement bond.
About a dozen Hermiston-area residents attended the forum and were not shy about their reasons for voting no on the measure.
“We’re taxed to death,” said Hermiston resident Luann Garner. “We’ve had it. It’s not that we’re anti-children or anti-schools. If the bond measure and the sheriff’s levy passed, my taxes would have gone up $326 a year. People are mad. We feel we’ve been thrown under the bus.”
Hermiston resident Clay Peterson said government and schools need to scale back their wish lists.
“They don’t know how to cut corners,” he said. “They want the best of the best of the best. There’s a lot of people that want in my pockets.”
Others in attendance Tuesday who supported the bond measure offered their opinions as to why it failed. Hermiston City Manager Ed Brookshier said he’s heard from people who felt that most of the money would be spent in Pendleton.
“I heard that there was a sense that the measure was too weighted to Pendleton instead of here,” Brookshier said.
Dan Dorran of Hermiston said BMCC didn’t effectively communicate to the public what the benefits to the community would be.
“The message needs to improve,” he said. “I also think there was a little bit of arrogance that it was going to pass. You need hard work to pass anything.”
Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann, who voted for the bond measure, agreed that the benefits were unclear to a lot of voters.
“You need a better defined message,” he said. “This community is intelligent and will support a product if they know what it is. We just need to know what you’re selling us.”
Anne Emmons suggested that there may not have been enough in the measure to entice older voters to support it. The perception may have been, she said, that it was geared toward students 18-24, who typically don’t vote in large numbers.
“Maybe older voters didn’t see anything that would benefit them,” she said.
Echo’s Chet Prior said anti-tax sentiment is understandable, but added the college is providing valuable job skills to the area’s future workforce.
“I see Blue Mountain as an excellent source for a high school graduate to add a year or two of education to up his earning potential and he can do it at home,” he said. “Let’s don’t make Blue Mountain the scapegoat for all this frustration.”
Hermiston resident Maria Durón said having first-rate schools is key to attracting people to a community.
“We have to look at educating our children,” she said. “We have to invest in them. When we look at people moving into our area, they look at schools and colleges.”
BMCC officials are mulling over whether or not to put the measure back on the May ballot and whether or not to do so in its original form or a modified form.
“We want to hear feedback to see what is viable in May,” said Casey White-Zollman. “We don’t want to do the same thing just to fail again.”