Local officials explore moving Moffat County into Colorado Mountain College system
The local College District Board is taking the first step to see if transitioning from the Colorado Northwestern Community College system to join Colorado Mountain College would be a good fit for Moffat County.
Moffat County Junior Affiliated College District Board President Kirstie McPherson and Treasurer Jennifer Holloway approached Craig City Council and Moffat County commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 11, requesting letters of support for the initial step in the process.
The College District Board, which is a special-taxing district governing the local mill levy, was approached by CMC about doing a feasibility study. According to McPherson, CMC will pay for and conduct the study, and there is no cost for the College District Board to participate.
“This is the very first step and there are no decisions being made,” McPherson said. “CMC could come back either way and say, ‘Yes, we do want you,’ or ‘No, we don’t want you.’”
In response to the request, Craig and Moffat County officials approved letters of support to move forward with the feasibility study. City officials were generally in support of the College District participating in the study, but there were some concerns from council members.
Still, City Council member Tom Kleinschnitz said CMC representatives were not overly pushy about the potential transition, and it was clear to him this possibility needs further exploration.
“They weren’t marching in like they were taking on something,” Kleinschnitz said. “They were very clear that there would need to be community buy-in.”
CMC currently has 11 college campuses in Colorado, including Steamboat Springs, Leadville, Rifle and its newest campus in Salida.
Ultimately, the decision for the local College District Board to join the CMC system would come back to the voters. McPherson explained that if the feasibility study comes back and the transition looks like it makes sense, the move would still need to be passed through ballot initiatives in 2023.
Moffat County voters would need to vote for the local taxing district to become a CMC member and for the existing mill levy to be transferred, and the existing CMC districts would also need to vote Moffat County in.
The existing mill levy would increase slightly from 3.5% to 4%, with one potential benefit being that Moffat County residents would be able to get a bachelor’s degree at the in-district rate of $95 per credit hour.
“We would still get state funding, but we would be a part of a private district,” Hollloway said. “Right now, there are electors who control the funding for the tax district, but the board does not control the college operations.”
McPherson emphasized that CNCC and the state system have done nothing wrong. The CMC system just works differently, with a board that is consistent with all of its territories each having a vote.
The possibility of becoming a CMC member district has been discussed before, particularly with regards to Moffat County’s transition away from an energy economy, but this is the first official step that has been taken. Holloway said it has been a transparent process, and the CNCC board has been informed from the start.
“As a taxing board, we are stewards of the taxing district,” McPherson said. “We know that a portion of the taxes we pay have gone over to the Rangely campus. One example is the soccer program. We cultivated that here, and (CNCC) moved it to Rangely.”
Several council members felt the community has asked for more program development at CNCC’s Craig campus over the years but said that hasn’t happened. McPherson said that the expansion of CNCC in Craig has been driven by the local College District Board.
Craig City Council member Paul James expressed some of his concerns over being on the receiving side of tax dollars leaving a community. McPherson said that the CMC college board is responsible for the tax dollars and each district member has a vote.
James still expressed hesitation over some of the unanswered questions about the study and the possibility a transition could compromise existing jobs. Mayor Ryan Hess said his biggest fear has always been that CNCC can decide not to operate here anymore and move all of its operations to Rangely.
“With us not holding operations, CNCC could essentially strip us of our operations, leaving us with an empty building and still paying into a mill levy without a college,” Hess said.
Looking back, Hess said that when the local college campus was at the bell tower, it was busier than it is now inside a new building that the community has invested in. The possibility of transitioning to the CMC system could give the community more say in the college operations, as well as access to new curriculums.
“What we need to look at is that campus is scary quiet right now, and when you look at a business that is that quiet, it goes away,” said Kleinschinitz. “So I think we need to at least look at our options.”
Although the CNCC board and state stakeholders are aware of the feasibility study, McPherson said that the process could create angst among some community members and stakeholders.
“This is going to be a big lift,” McPherson said. “We are going to have to answer a lot of questions and I think it would be doing the taxpayers a disservice by not asking these questions.”
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