Camdenton voters reject OTC campus near Lake of the Ozarks

Claudette Riley
Springfield News-Leader
An artist rendering of the proposed Ozarks Technical Community College campus near Lake of the Ozarks. Credit: Submitted photo

Ozarks Technical Community College is no longer planning to build a campus near the Lake of the Ozarks.

In the Tuesday election, voters in the Camdenton school district overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to join the OTC taxing district.

There was a higher-than-average turnout for the election — postponed from April due to the coronavirus pandemic — with more than 75 percent of the 4,140 votes opposed to the move, according to results from Camden County.

OTC Chancellor Hal Higdon said economic upheaval spurred by COVID-19 may have played a role in the outcome.

"We felt really confident in March — unemployment was less than 3 percent, no COVID, no unrest in the country, no high unemployment," he said. "I think the delay killed us."

The push to join the OTC district and bring a comprehensive campus to the lake region was led by school, city and business leaders. Had it passed, residents of Camdenton would have been able to take OTC classes at a lower rate.

Camdenton Superintendent Tim Hadfield said he was surprised by the percentage of voters against the proposal.

"We saw opportunities for not only our students but also our adults in the possibility of OTC providing education and training on a comprehensive campus that we presently do not have in the area," he said. 

Hadfield said he was surprised by the large percentage of voters who opposed the tax levy.

"Our Board of Education decided to put it on the ballot because representatives from the community came to the board and asked," Hadfield said Wednesday. "From there, it was the patrons of the district's decision and the community's voice (Tuesday) night was pretty loudly heard."

Higdon noted there was also strong opposition. State Fair Community College, which has served the area for more than three decades without a tax levy, pushed to keep OTC out of the region.

"The 'nos' were very organized and took a very conservative route that this was a tax increase in times like this," he said.

"In fact, one of them said 'How could you, during COVID-19, put this on the ballot.' It was put on the ballot by the school board in October 2019."

The rejected proposal was a tax levy of 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, or $40 a year on a house valued at $100,000.

If the tax levy had passed, OTC planned to build a free-standing campus at a cost of up to $20 million in the Camdenton district.

Higdon said he respects the voters and does not anticipate the proposal resurfacing on a future ballot.

"Thanks to all the city leaders of Camdenton, the school board, the chamber, they are great people. We appreciate them, but the voters will get the government they deserve and they will get the school they deserve."

Higdon said he was disappointed in the outcome. "I think the lake needed this so badly. I can bring a horse to water, but I can't make them drink."