Supporters of a plan to have Lemhi County become part of the College of Eastern Idaho’s college district are wrapping up their educational campaign this week with their final town hall meetings to explain the issue.
Gatherings are scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 23 at the Leadore Community Center and Thursday, Oct. 24 at the Gibbonsville Community Center. Both meetings run from 6 to 8 p.m. A mass mailing with information about the issue was sent out earlier to all addresses in Lemhi County and volunteers have distributed informational brochures throughout downtown Salmon and walked around the community talking with people.
The Lemhi Citizens for Affordable Education and Training, led by chairwoman Sue Polk, have spent the last few months talking with Lemhi County residents about their proposal to bring more post-secondary education opportunities to Salmon.
The question before Lemhi County residents on Nov. 5 is whether to join the college district. To pass, the measure requires a favorable vote from 50 percent of voters, plus one more vote.
Lemhi County voters were supposed to vote on the issue last May, but the election couldn’t occur because Lemhi County officials failed to file one document with the Idaho State Department of Education. Supporters decided last May to have the issue on the ballot in November.
If the measure is approved, higher education courses would be conducted in Salmon at the College of Eastern Idaho, Salmon Valley campus at the Salmon Valley Business and Innovation Center, fulfilling a need that Lemhi Education Project Director Dana Cotton says continues to grow. For the last eight years, the Lemhi County Economic Development Association has sponsored the Lemhi Education Project. That venture is the driving force behind the request to join the college district for the Idaho Falls-based community college.
If approved next month, four new courses would be offered in Salmon in January, Cotton said, in addition to the certified nursing assistant and adult basic education courses now being offered. Currently, 20 students are enrolled in CEI courses in Salmon, Cotton said.
Lemhi County’s distance from any college is a concern for Cotton and Polk. This collaboration with CEI could have major benefits for the county and residents who live in and near Salmon, who wouldn’t have to move to take college courses. Offering 100-level college courses in Salmon allows area high school students to take dual-credit courses, opening the door for some of them to earn associate’s degrees while still in high school. That saves money and pushes the students farther down the road, the women said.
Local courses would be geared toward providing skills that are needed in this part of Idaho, Cotton said. That includes medical and timber oriented classes. Currently, certified nursing and licensed practical nursing classes are offered in Salmon and graduates of the programs have been able to obtain higher-paying jobs than they otherwise would have, she said.
“We have the potential to increase and grow programs,” Polk said.
The building where classes are now held, and additional classes are planned to be held, can hold 60 students, Cotton said. Based on CEI’s enrollment formula, she thinks it would be five years before that enrollment number would be reached and the building capacity met.
“Outgrowing our space is an opportunity we’d love to deal with,” she said.
Polk and other supporters of the effort say if the Lemhi Education Project doesn't join up with CEI, it's likely the Salmon program will disappear sooner rather than later. The project has relied heavily on volunteers to donate both time and money and many of those people are getting old enough they no longer can offer the same level of support, Polk said.
The cost to Lemhi County property owners to join the district would be $15 per $100,000 of assessed value per year. The median home value in Lemhi County is $174,900, meaning a homeowner who has zero exemptions would pay about $26 more per year in property taxes. Idaho’s homeowners’ exemption means most people pay property taxes on less than the full value of their homes, meaning the tax could be less. The rate can increase if the CEI board of trustees vote to raise the rate, but it can’t increase by more than 3 percent in any year. In the two years CEI has been a community college, no tax rate increases have been implemented, Polk said.
Polk said she and other volunteers with the Lemhi Citizens for Affordable Education and Training feel good about their chances for approval, as long as people turn out to vote next month. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Early and absentee voting has already begun.
The College of Eastern Idaho has undergone big changes in recent years, morphing from a technical school to a community college in 2017. Now is the perfect time for the Lemhi Education Project to transform into CEI, Polk said.