Vote approaches for $485 million college bond

Voters will decide next month the fate of a $485 million bond to expand State Center Community College District, including $25 million earmarked for eventual construction of a permanent facility in Oakhurst.

The SCCCD has displayed numerous advertisements and attended community events over the new bond in an attempt to gather enough support for the June 7 ballot.

At stake is whether voters across the district, which includes the Valley and Mountain Area, wish to approve a property tax increase to cover the costs.

If passed as written, property taxes would increase by $18.50 a year per each $100,000 of a home’s value. Thus, a home valued at $200,000 would cost an additional $37 a year in taxes.

Some of those funds would be used for construction of a permanent campus, on a minimum 15 acres, to replace the current 2.7-acre Oakhurst Community College Center and its seven portable buildings.

Supporters of the bond say the costs to taxpayers are minimal, and will set a path for decades on the importance of higher education in the Mountain Area and the Central Valley.

“Investing in our students and veterans will greatly benefit them for years to come,” said Darin Soukup, director of the Oakhurst center. “We need to meet the needs of an ever-changing job market. The bond is an integral piece, supporting our future educational needs providing upgrades in technology, infrastructure improvement, and new facilities.”

Bobby Kahn, district trustee for Area 1 including Madera County, said the $18.50 amount could also be refinanced in the future to drive down costs to taxpayers.

One major complaint from bond opponents is its lack of specific language to guarantee the $25 million is set aside for Oakhurst.

Kahn said the district can’t make that guarantee, as bond language often relies on flexibility for emergency situations.

“But we can’t say we’re going to take that $25 million and build another campus in Kings County or something like that,” Kahn said. “There’s nothing in there about using the money that way. There’s language that says we’re going to use $25 million to develop an Oakhurst center. This has been vetted by everyone and we’re all in agreement about the need for the Oakhurst campus.”

Kahn said the goal for Eastern Madera County would be a 40-acre campus. He said realtors have taken district officials on recent tours to possible sites around the Mountain Area, but no decisions on the new buildings can be made unless funding is secured.

“We’re getting a feel on where our infrastructure is best suited for a campus and some professional input on a logical location,” Kahn said. “But we’re not locked in or targeting any particular site.”

Oakhurst Realtor Brad Ditton, one of the bond’s most vocal supporters, has said it seems like a “reasonable investment” for the Mountain Area.

“If your house is worth $250,000, your contribution is about 13 cents a day,” Ditton said. “That seems pretty good to me. I mean, even if you’re retired, it could mean more restaurants, more opportunities for shopping, and more higher-paying jobs. Maybe that’s a small investment for the opportunity for everyone to get a higher education and generally improve this community.”

Along with the future permanent location in Oakhurst, the bond includes several other expansions, such as a new campus in southeast Fresno and improvements across the district.

The bond includes $170 million for Fresno City College - mostly for a parking garage and new buildings for science and math - as well as $60 million for a 120-acre campus in Clovis, and expanded facilities at Madera Community College with plans to make it a fully accredited college.

State Center Community College District was founded in 1964 and has campuses in Oakhurst, Madera, Reedley, Fresno, and Clovis.

NOTE: Follow these links to read an editorial and a guest commentary supporting Measure C, or on page 8A of our printed paper.