Peaslee Tech pursuing countywide special taxing district to fund its operations

photo by: Lawrence Journal-World file photo

The Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center, 2920 Haskell Avenue, Suite 100.

Douglas County residents soon may be asked to pay a new property tax to support a Lawrence-based technical school.

Kevin Kelley, CEO of the Dwayne Peaslee Technical Training Center, told the Journal-World on Friday that the school wants to receive permission from the Kansas Legislature to ask Douglas County voters to approve a new taxing district that would allow the school to begin collecting property taxes to fund its operations.

Kelley believes the district, which would encompass all of Douglas County, would provide stable funding as the center continues to grow and provide affordable training education opportunities for county residents.

“I really think the biggest benefit is the long-term stability,” Kelley said, adding it would help improve the center’s initiatives like its recently launched RISE program, which has allowed county residents who lost their job to the COVID-19 pandemic to train for new careers for free. “Part of what we hope is that we can sustain the program over time to where any low-income resident of Douglas County can take a program here at no cost.”

Currently, the tech center, 2920 Haskell Ave., Suite 100, receives much of its annual funding from local governments, including the City of Lawrence and Douglas County. Kelley said if the taxing district is approved, it plans to receive its annual funding from a 0.5 mill levy — which would provide roughly the same $600,000 it currently receives — rather than asking for funding from the government officials.

“This way it will be a dedicated fund, rather than an annual allocation,” Kelley said.

Peaslee Tech offers training courses to county residents for various careers, such as welding, auto body repair and electrician. In 2019, the center enrolled about 1,800 students.

Kelley noted most community college and tech schools in Kansas use their own taxing districts to fund their operations. He noted Peaslee Tech has not previously had one because it started out as a center for other schools to use as a venue for classes, but it has grown into its own operation in recent years.

About three years ago, the Kansas Board of Regents awarded accreditation to the tech center, establishing it as a state-recognized institution of post-secondary education. Kelley said having its own tax base is part of the school’s “natural progression.”

For the taxing district to be established, the Kansas Legislature would need to approve it. Then Douglas County voters would then need to authorize it through an election. Kelley said he believes the state lawmakers could approve it during its legislative session next spring and put the tax ballot question to the voters during the November 2021 general election.

The center has asked the Lawrence and Douglas County commissions to include the taxing district as one of its legislative priorities for 2021. The commissions are expected to consider their annual legislative priorities later this month.

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