CMC votes unanimously to begin Moffat County feasibility study, prompting more questions
This week, Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees voted to move forward with a feasibility study to determine whether Moffat County would be a good fit for annexation into the CMC network.
The request for a feasibility study was initiated by the Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District Board earlier this fall to explore the possibility for Moffat County to move from the state network under Colorado Northwestern Community College into a local network under CMC.
The CMC Board of Trustees and foundation board held joint meetings on Monday, Dec. 12, and Tuesday, Dec. 13, where several college district board members from Moffat County joined via Zoom to speak with CMC about the request.
On Tuesday, the CMC board, which has seven voting members each representing a tax district within the CMC network, voted unanimously to move forward with conducting the feasibility study.
Chris Romer, a CMC board member, said that approving the feasibility study does not mean anything other than moving forward with the process to further explore Moffat County’s needs and whether CMC might be able to meet them.
This is not the first time CMC has received a request from a Colorado community to explore annexation. There have been previous requests from Telluride, Buena Vista and Salida, with the latter being the only community that moved on to pass a ballot measure to annex the district into the CMC network.
Matt Gianneschi, CMC’s chief operating officer, said that the request from Moffat County is different, which could present interesting challenges in a potential annexation.
In Colorado, there has never been a community that has left the state-led community college system to return to a community-based system. According to Gianneschi, there have been schools that have left a local system to join the state system, but not the other direction.
Moffat County is also the first community to request a feasibility study where an existing college campus is already built. Depending on which assets are owned by the state versus the county, it could get complicated in determining how to divide those assets if Moffat County were to leave the state system.
Gianneschi said the purpose of the feasibility study is to collect facts about the Moffat County community, where it is going in the future, what local jobs will be needed and what programs might be required to fill those needs. The CMC board then looks at the facts to determine whether CMC can meet the needs of the community.
When asked in the Monday presentation why Moffat County was interested in potential annexation, local college district board members expressed that Moffat County’s future is more aligned with the outdoor industries in Routt County and most other mountain corridor communities in Colorado.
Jennifer Holloway, a local college district board member, said that all of the toolkits are pointing toward outdoor recreation, outdoor niche businesses, agro-tourism and how to embrace the natural assets to have a strong and diverse plan for Moffat County’s economy.
“We need to have a diverse plan for our economy, and having a strong workforce plan is key to that,” Holloway said. “CMC has already developed a lot of outdoor recreation programs. We have so much land, and that’s part of our role living here is that we need to be public stewards of that land.”
CMC is considered a dual-mission college, meaning it provides a blend of liberal arts and hands-on skills training programs under one roof with a mix of bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees and certificate programs.
All CMC schools operate together as one system, but each of the 11 districts included in the system has distinct campuses with unique programs that are designed to meet needs in their respective communities.
“We only provide programs that have direct labor markets in our communities,” Gianneschi said.
Holloway said one of the reasons that Moffat County is exploring a change to the CMC system is because it is structured differently than the current state system.
Currently, the Moffat County local tax board only has control over how the local tax money is being used, but the elected board members don’t have a say when it comes to programmatic decisions.
“Some of us feel more comfortable with the structure of CMC,” Holloway said. “Because all the different campuses have representatives that serve on that board together.”
What will the study look like?
The only community that has gone through the feasibility study to complete the annexation process is Salida, which was a fairly simple process because CMC already served the community and owned a campus in the area.
However, the study for Moffat County is anticipated to be more complex, and the cost may also be higher.
“We have some rough numbers in our heads about what it could be, but it’s possible for the cost to be more than that,” Gianneschi said over the phone Wednesday. “It will depend on what data is easily accessible and what kinds will take more work, what kind of analysis is needed and whether we need to bring in experts to help us.”
Gianneschi said CMC wants the feasibility to study to be as cost-neutral to any institutions as possible. It is likely that CMC will have to absorb its own share of the costs and will utilize services that are already in-house at CMC to help perform some of the research and discovery.
The feasibility study will include a number of elements including a financial and a programmatic element, which will require more on-the-ground discovery through talking to business owners, schools, students and community members to find out what the community needs and where it’s going in the future.
Gianneschi said there is also a political component where the CMC board needs to consider who is involved in the Moffat County annexation efforts, whether a possible annexation is widely supported throughout the community and what the overall effect would be.
Now that the feasibility study has been approved by the CMC board, a committee will be assembled to begin collecting information. There were separate reasons that Buena Vista and Telluride didn’t move forward with annexation beyond the request for a study, but essentially those communities were focused on other priority initiatives or weren’t ready at the time.
Gianneschi said that although the annexation process for Salida was fairly straightforward, one of the things that helped drive the process was having a local committee on the ground to help communicate and keep the pieces moving.
Once the feasibility study process has begun, Holloway intends to step back from the process to let other community members get involved, and she anticipates the local committee will need about a dozen residents.
“It’s more about making sure that other voices are heard, the community is involved and it’s not just a small group of us trying to lead it,” Holloway said, adding that several community members have already reached out to volunteer help.
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