Santa Fe Community College has two bond questions on the ballot for the Feb. 6 election, the first time the school has sought public approval of funding since 2010.
If both measures win voter support, property taxes won’t increase and SFCC will benefit from $17 million in financing to be spent over the next four years on infrastructure and capital projects. Rejection of one or both of the bonds would mean a reduced property tax rate.
Most of the money raised would go toward infrastructure and construction of an on-campus automotive center to support the Automotive Technology Program, which is just getting throttled up.
Currently, the program – which was started up two years ago after the Auto Tech program at Northern New Mexico College was shut down due to budget cutbacks – is housed at a confining 2,000 square-foot garage on Bisbee Court, a few miles west of the main campus. Classes are staggered so the nearly 70 students in the program have enough elbow room to practice the craft. Lectures and book work are conducted in town at the Higher Learning Center on Siringo Road.
“There’s no place currently on campus that can accommodate the specialized needs of the program,” said Cecilia Cervantes, SFCC’s interim president who came on board in October.
These specialized needs include concrete foundations and floor slabs strong enough to bear the weight of heavy equipment, an exhaust system meeting EPA standards, and sufficient power to run the machinery. Bond money totaling $7 million would go toward a new 17,000 square-foot facility for the auto program on campus. “We’ll be able to double the number of students,” Cervantes said.
Auto technicians and mechanics are in high demand and the jobs pay rather well. The college cites data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that suggests auto tech and mechanic jobs will grow by 9 percent in the next five years. That translates to about 51 new jobs per year in the Santa Fe area.
Subaru University and Snap-On Tools are helping by discounting the cost of tools and equipment, as well as providing curriculum support, she said.
The program, headed by Gilbert Sena, who came to SFCC from Northern, is working toward gaining accreditation from the National Automotive Technician’s Education Foundation, which would allow student to become Automotive Service Excellence certified, a key to getting jobs currently paying in the $38,000 to $47,000 range.
In addition to the automotive center, about $5 million from the funding would go toward on-campus infrastructure. In addition, money would be spent to replace or repair HVAC systems, roofing, plumbing, water lines and repair and develop roads over the next four years.
Another $2 million would go toward technology upgrades, such as those that support security systems.
Cervantes said the money also would support more opportunities for online classes, as well as improve communications both internally and for the convenience of students.”We need to improve wifi capabilities on campus,” she said. “That’s just how students communicate these days.”
Another $2 million is earmarked for William C. Witter Fitness Education Center, which Cervantes noted gets used by people from outside the campus community. “That whole center needs a face lift,” she said.
Another $1 million would go toward upgrades and improvements to learning spaces for fashion design, arts, media arts, metal fabrication, and film and video performance.
When talking about the bond election, Cervantes highlights the importance of the community college to Santa Fe and the surrounding area, providing a resource for those looking to advance their education and obtain the skills needed to support a workforce. She notes that graduation rates have doubled in recent years and now 88 percent of students either move on to jobs or four-year universities.
In addition, associate degrees have increased by 52 percent, and certificates by 154 percent, in the last five years, according to material distributed by the college.
“What I love about this college is it serves such a wide variety of people in the community,” said Cervantes, who has spent 35 years as an administrator at colleges in California, Colorado and New Mexico. “I’m pleased with the successes we’ve had here and want to continue.”
Since one of the proposed bonds would increase the mill levy by .35 mill and the other would reduce it by the same amount, property taxes would stay at the same rate.
SFCC says its tax on a property with a market value of $300,000, and an assessed value of $100,000, is currently $369 per year. Approving both questions won’t change that, but rejecting both would reduce the tax by about $62 per year, or about $5 per month.
That would be the worst-case scenario for the college, which has already cut its budget by $1 million over the past two years, says Nick Telles, SFCC’s vice president for finance and CFO.
“Financially, the college would be in a bind. We’d have to make some tough decisions about facilities and capital improvements,” he said.