This November, Gallatin County voters will consider a mill levy that would allow our region's comprehensive two-year college, Gallatin College Montana State University, to serve more students and expand its programs to meet important workforce needs identified by local businesses and industry.

The cost of the 1.5 mill levy is $2.08 annually for every $100,000 in assessed property value.

While two-year education has existed across the state for many years it is a relatively new opportunity here in Gallatin County. In May 2010, the Montana Board of Regents authorized MSU to provide two-year education through Gallatin College. The result of this authorization was to effectively kick-start the development of the two-year college in our region.

In Montana, there are five counties with long standing two-year colleges that are part of the Montana University System. In these five counties — Yellowstone, Cascade, Lewis and Clark, Silver Bow and Missoula — the residents pay a 1.5 mill levy to support vocational technical education through their two-year college. The levy in these five counties dates back to the late 1960s. Gallatin County is currently the only county that does not have a mill levy supporting its comprehensive two-year college.

When the Montana Board of Regents approved two-year education through Gallatin College, it challenged the community to show its support through a countywide mill levy. The regents were clear that they expected the citizens of Gallatin County to contribute the 1.5 mills like the other counties with Montana University System two-year colleges. To help develop the college, the city of Bozeman stepped in three years ago and provided the equivalent of 1.5 mills in city funding for the college. This funded the development of new programs and met the Board of Regents' requirement for local funding until the 1.5 mill levy could be put to the county voters.

The $369,856 per year that would be raised by the levy of 1.5 mills would support the continued growth of the college, the education of hundreds more students and the development of additional courses and programs to meet the workforce needs of local businesses. Additionally, the mill levy funding would signal to the state that our community is committed to two-year education and build the case for state support for our two-year college. It also opens the door for the college to pursue funds like the recently announced U.S. Department of Labor grant, which is providing one-time funds for workforce development around the state.

The announcement that Gallatin College will be receiving $730,000 in one-time-only U.S. Department of Labor grant funding is great news. This four-year grant will provide start-up funding for an advanced manufacturing, computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining program. This has been a high need program for local manufacturers that have had difficulty finding skilled CNC workers and have had to recruit out of state for these high paying jobs. Unfortunately, this type of grant funding for program start-up is very rare. This is the first time there has been any significant grant funding for a program start-up at the college.

As I enter my fifth year as dean of Gallatin College, I have come to understand that creating a consistent local funding source through the countywide mill levy is a watershed moment for the college. I hope that you will take the time to learn more about Gallatin College and the significant role that we are playing in our local community so you can be better informed on this issue. I encourage you to vote in this election.

You can find out more by going to gallatin.montana.edu, or by calling me, Bob Hietala, at 994-5536.

Bob Hietala, of Bozeman, is dean of Gallatin College.