The demand for higher education in Lemhi County and the rest of central Idaho is high, three Lemhi County women say.
So they’re spearheading an effort to ask Lemhi County voters to join the College of Eastern Idaho’s tax district. A May 21 election is planned to decide the question. That’s the lone issue before Lemhi voters May 21. To be approved, the measure requires a favorable vote from 50 percent of voters, plus one more vote.
Tammy Stringham, executive director of Lemhi County Economic Development Association; Dana Cotton, director of Lemhi Education Project, a program of the economic development association; and Sue Polk, steering committee chairwoman for the Lemhi Citizens for Affordable Education and Training, are spending much of their time holding public meetings and preparing written material to help as many Lemhi County voters as possible learn about the issue.
For the last eight years, the Lemhi County Economic Development Association has sponsored the Lemhi Education Project, Stringham said. That venture is a driving force behind this request to join the college district for the Idaho Falls-based community college, she said. The end result of a positive vote is simple, she said — “to bring post-secondary education to Salmon.” If approved, the new institution’s name would be College of Eastern Idaho, Salmon Valley.
It makes sense for Lemhi County to join the district and be part of the college’s growth and development, Stringham said.
“It would be exciting to go on the journey with CEI as they get started,” she said.
Stringham and Cotton see a logical transition for the GED, workforce development training, tutoring and two nursing programs now offered through the Lemhi Education Project to be expanded into CEI programs. The Lemhi Education Project is beyond its capacity and has maxed out its ability to provide services, they said. Cotton is a part-time director and that position needs to be full time, Stringham said.
“Demand for our services is high,” Cotton said. “People are starving for the education.”
Lemhi County is isolated and far from any college, Polk said. The opportunities that Lemhi County would see from this collaboration “are huge,” she said. Providing local people with the opportunity to take classes without having to move to a town where a college is located saves them money, she said. Parents wouldn’t have to pay for housing, meals and other typical college expenses if their young students can live at home and earn an associate degree or certification by taking classes in Salmon.
Plus, Polk said, it’s been proven time and again that an educated workforce “draws industry and brings people to the community. New people would come to the area. There is a wave effect.”
Local courses could be geared toward teaching students skills that will help them get jobs in this part of Idaho, Stringham said. That includes focusing on sciences, which can lead to careers in medical fields and with federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
“If we can grow some of our people, they could get jobs and stay here,” she said.
The cost to property owners is low, the women said. It would increase property taxes by $15 per $100,000 of assessed value. That amount is mandated by the state. It can’t be higher or lower. The median home value in Lemhi County is $174,900, meaning a homeowner who has zero tax exemptions would pay about $26 more per year in property taxes if the measure is approved. But, with Idaho’s homeowner exemption, most people pay property taxes on less than the full value of their homes, meaning that $26 increase is likely lower, Stringham said.
“It’s about the cost of one meal,” Stringham said of the yearly increase. It’s about the same amount as Lemhi County residents now pay for their local television district.
To help educate voters about the proposal, two open houses are planned every week at the innovation center — every Wednesday, except May 1, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and various evenings during the next month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. An open house is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, May 2. Rick Aman, president of CEI, and other CEI staffers plan to attend the May 2 gathering.