Capital improvements coming for CMC

Charles Agar
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Colorado Mountain College stands to gain nearly $10 million in additional taxes in 2008 because of rising property values and assessments in the six counties that collect taxes for the school system.

Indeed, assessments and values have leaped from just 10 percent in Lake and Garfield counties to as high as 41 percent in Pitkin County.

In 1999, voters approved a fixed mill levy ” or property tax rate ” of 3.997 for the college. The increased property assessments, multiplied by the levy, will yield a $9.76 million windfall, with nearly $3.2 million from Pitkin County alone.

District tax money makes up about 75 percent of the annual $50 million budget, officials said. At its 14 campuses, the school has enrollment of some 20,000 students.

While some local taxing authorities will temporarily lower mill levies, CMC officials said the school needs the money.

“We have a long way to come,” CMC spokeswoman Debra Crawford said.

When voters approved the fixed mill levy in 1999, school officials promised to make a series of capital improvements to the various campuses, increase salaries and upgrade technology, Crawford said.

“We are continuing to fulfill those promises,” Crawford said.

Many of the satellite campuses started with just small storefronts, but school officials have been able to build stand-alone buildings in Aspen, Vail and west Garfield County, and plan to replace the Summit County site with a new building in Breckenridge.

At a fee of $43 per credit hour, the school boasts the lowest tuition in the state, and Crawford said the extra funds from this year’s windfall will add to college reserves that will act as a cushion in the event of economic downturn ” a time when many people turn to affordable community colleges for retraining.

“Our objective is to spend money on education,” said Doris Dewton, board of trustees president at CMC. “We’ve never held vast amounts of money in an investment fund. The college does not have an endowment.”

The school pays up-front for major capital improvements, instead of issuing a bond.

“What appears to be a sudden burst of cash gets spent fairly easily with our building plans,” Dewton said.

The new building in Breckenridge will cost about $14 million, she said.

“I think our board and our president of our college have been very prudent financial managers,” Dewton said.

The board discussed temporarily reducing the mill levy, but Dewton said they were concerned that they couldn’t raise it again.

“We just don’t want litigation and that kind of thing,” Dewton said.

Plus, the college mill levy is low compared to municipalities and school districts.

“We thought that because it’s a modest mill levy … that we could handle it prudently,” Dewton said.

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