Cowley County to build Wellington campus

Preliminary idea for the Cowley College campus in Wellington. The college has not yet selected land for the campus or architects and engineers to create official renderings.
Preliminary idea for the Cowley College campus in Wellington. The college has not yet selected land for the campus or architects and engineers to create official renderings. Courtesy image

Cowley College will build a Wellington campus to open in fall 2018.

Sumner County residents voted Tuesday to raise sales tax by a half-percent to create a new Cowley College campus in Wellington.

The ballot measure passed 55 percent to 45 percent.

“Anytime you’re dealing with a tax matter, especially when it’s new, it’s always a tension point, because people generally are not fans of taxation – including myself,” said Dennis Rittle, president of Cowley College. “But we didn’t view this as a tax, rather as an investment.”

The tax hike takes effect April 1 and lasts 10 years. It will help pay for construction costs, property purchases, repairs, remodeling and furnishing the campus. It could also help pay for some equipment, architectural expenses and overall operation of the campus.

The college has not yet selected land, architects or engineers for the project, so cost projections have not been finalized. But Rittle said he expects the Wellington campus to cost at least $20 million.

He said he hopes to select a 15- to 25-acre site for the campus in the next two to three weeks between downtown Wellington and roughly exit 19 of I-35. He said he hopes to select an architect in early spring and break ground in late summer to be able to offer classes in fall 2018.

“That’s going to be a stretch goal,” Rittle said.

The tax hike is expected to raise roughly $12 million to $13 million over the 10-year period for the college.

To begin, the Wellington campus would offer transfer degrees and technical programs for various industries including agriculture, manufacturing, education, computer science and first-response.

County officials and economic development representatives first approached Cowley College with the idea about a year and a half ago.

“It’s going to have a huge economic impact,” said Stacy Davis, executive director of Sumner County Economic Development. “I’m just extremely excited that the residents of Sumner County could see the value in education and took the initiative to partner with Cowley College.”

Sumner County’s sales tax will be 9.5 percent when it takes effect in April.

Tax for health

Sumner County residents also voted by a landslide to extend a half-percent sales tax to help pay for mental health, ambulatory and emergency services. That tax hike first took effect in 2011.

The ballot measure to extend it passed nearly 2-to-1.

In April 2015, another 1 percent sales tax went into effect to support the Sumner Regional Medical Center.

Cowley County, which is just east of Sumner County, also passed a 1 percent sales tax hike by a landslide in May to pay off debt for the South Central Kansas Medical Center. The tax passed with a 5-to-1 margin.

David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a group aimed at expanding Medicaid, said federal tax dollars paid by Kansans could come back to the state through Medicaid expansion to help pay for health services and to reimburse hospitals.

“Taxpayers are being asked to do more because of the governor and Legislature’s failure to expand KanCare,” he said. “That’s unfair when taxpayers have to pay twice when these services could be funded through expanded KanCare.”

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn