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Commissioners ask council to fund higher education

A $270,000 request in riverboat dollars was made last week by the Harrison County Board of Commissioners for development of a higher education learning facility in Harrison County.
J.R. Eckart, commissioner chair, told the council, Harrison County’s fiscal body, that the proposal for a higher education facility is still in the planning stage.
‘We don’t know what’s going to come out yet,’ he said.
Eckart said the appropriation of funds would allow the seven-member committee formed to look at the options of a higher education facility to know what parameters within which they will work.
‘It’s been suggested to go to Vincennes, IUS, and Ivy Tech and see what they can offer with this type of funding,’ Eckart said.
Rhonda Rhoads, vice chair of the council, questioned Eckart as to whether the committee would have control of spending the funds or if they would need commissioner approval to spend the money.
Eckart said the expenditure of the funds must have commissioner approval.
The council will make a decision regarding the request during its meeting on Jan. 8, which begins at 7:30 p.m. instead of 7, as in the past.
The $270,000 request came after the commissioners on Nov. 20 discussed asking the council to appropriate the funds in this year’s budget for a community or junior college.
Eckart said then he would like to see proposals from colleges that show what they could do for that amount of money, and then choose the one that best fits the needs of Harrison County.
Not all of the three commissioners supported the request for funding a higher education facility.
Commissioner James Goldman said in November that they had set up a committee to come up with a funding request, and he did not agree with showing education institutions what they were prepared to offer upfront.
The Harrison County Commissioners created the seven-member board in October to come up with a proposal for a higher education facility for Harrison County to present to the council for a funding request.
The committee was also charged with looking at what Vincennes University could provide and what its officials intended to provide in terms of education for the county.
The committee unanimously appointed in October by the commissioners included Eckart, Gary Davis, Doug Robson, county attorney Chris Byrd and Gary Geswein. At least two other persons are yet to be appointed to represent the educational needs of Harrison County.
Robson, director of Harrison County Lifelong Learning, said he has never been asked to attend any meetings held by the committee, and to his knowledge the committee has not met.
Vincennes University has shown interest in coming to Harrison County since 2005. They toured Harrison County Hospital and some of the medical office buildings in December of that year to see if one of those facilities would work for a satellite community college.
The commissioners and council then contacted Vincennes, in a letter, this past summer to discuss taking over Lifelong Learning for the fall 2006 semester. Davis and Eckart offered Vincennes an annual subsidy of $225,000 as well as the Lifelong Learning facilities.
In September, the commissioners discussed a memorandum proposed by Vincennes. The proposal, which was unsigned, would allow Vincennes to retain control over all academic programs offered and also included a $225,000 annual subsidy which would diminish over a set number of years.
The commissioners agreed in October that if they did accept a proposal from Vincennes, they would need more control over the programs Vincennes was going to offer Harrison County.
The appropriation requested from the council last week for a higher education facility is the first of its kind from the commissioners.
If the council approves the appropriation, the funds will be set up for the committee to use at the approval of the commissioners.
Auditor Pat Wolfe said the funds would only be appropriated for use in 2007 and would revert back to the original fund if not used. Funds could be encumbered and spent in 2008 only if the committee signed a contract during 2007.

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