Gallatin College funding depends on voters.

Voters annually impact their community with the cast of a ballot. This year Gallatin County voters’ decisions will affect MSU by deciding if Gallatin County should provide a 1.5 mill levy to fund Gallatin College, the two-year college of MSU.

Beginning in 2010, Montana University System Board (MUS) of Regents placed Gallatin College under the authority of MSU as the only two-year college in the area. With approximately 1,100 students, Gallatin College provides lower cost education for workforce programs, general education classes and dual-enrollment students who take both high school and college classes. Approximately half of the students are nontraditional and by working with local businesses Gallatin College has designed pertinent workforce programs to train people for jobs in Bozeman.

However, the MUS approved Gallatin College with the expectation that the community would show support through a 1.5 mill levy. A mill levy has nothing to do with a manufacturing mill or millions of dollars; rather the term speaks of an assessed property value. In this case, a 1.5 mill levy means that property owners will annually pay $2.08 dollars per $100,000 in assessed property value or $4.15 for $200,000 in assessed property value to fund Gallatin College. The measure will not affect MSU students financially unless they are homeowners.

[pullquote align=”right”]“It [the mill levy] signals to the state that folks in Gallatin County are committed to 2-year education and will help the college get more state funding down the road.” – Bob Hietala, Dean of Gallatin College.[/pullquote]

Since the 1960’s, all other two-year colleges in Montana have had at least one 1.5 mill levy from the local community. If passed, the mill levy would be a permanent measure, not needing to be re-voted on yearly.

Dean of Gallatin College Bob Hietala views the mill levy as imperative to the growth, and perhaps the future, of the college. “It signals to the state that folks in Gallatin County are committed to two-year education and will help the college get more state funding down the road,” said Hietala.

This funding will be used to support the enrollment and program growth of Gallatin College as it plans to expand programs including, small business management, advanced manufacturing and machining, IT support education and culinary arts.

The mill levy will be voted on by Gallatin County as a whole, but otherwise this year’s election ballot is unique to each city. In Bozeman, voters will decide on a mayor and city commissioner. While in Belgrade, voters will vote on three council member wards and the mayor. Although all Belgrade candidates are running unopposed, legally an election is required to be held.

This year’s election is a mail-in election, meaning there will be no local polling places open on Nov. 5. Instead, ballots have been mailed throughout Gallatin County in rounds (to avoid swamping the postal service) and can be returned by mail or hand-delivered to the Gallatin County election office or the local city clerk. In order to be counted ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on election day.

While it is state-mandated that federal elections have designated polling places, no such law exists for local elections. Gallatin County therefore chooses to holds mail-in elections for cost reasons. Charlotte Mills, county elections administrator, estimates the costs of a mail-in election at $70,000 compared to the $200,000 required to hold a polling place election. Additionally, she estimated voter turnout for a mail-in election between 40-50 percent compared to 20-30 percent for a polling place election.

Students who are not registered to vote may do so at the Gallatin County Election Office on 311 W. Main St.