Guest opinion: Protect CMC by supporting ballot measure
Fifty-two years ago, the members of the Education Committee of the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce was composed of business and community leaders and I crisscrossed thousands of miles — in all weather conditions on U.S. 6, U.S. 24, single-lane roads, Loveland Pass, Independence Pass and Fremont Pass — in order to advocate for a mill levy to build a college in the mountains.
We all understood that the state would not likely ever choose to locate college campuses in our mountain communities. They were simply too small and too remote to justify making a statewide investment. So we decided to chart our own destiny and set out to create an institution of our own.
On Nov. 5, 1965, the communities in Garfield, Lake, Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties passed a mill levy to build a local district college by a ratio of 2-to-1. Steamboat Springs in Routt County joined the CMC District in 1982. This landslide victory established Colorado Mountain College, an institution that continues to defy conventions and distinguish and advantage its communities.
The college, like most local services in rural communities, is primarily supported by property taxes. The college’s mill levy of 3.997 has remained the same for decades. This financial model allows the college to deliver services in all communities across the college’s service area, maintain the lowest tuition in Colorado, offer free college courses to nearly 1,300 high school students, and provide GED, ESL and other essential education services.
Colorado Mountain College serves approximately 20,000 students on 11 campuses every year. The college is the primary provider of nurses, police officers, firefighters, early childhood educators, hospitality workers and professional outfitters in the central mountains. The college also trains elementary school teachers, solar installers, oil and gas technicians and welders.
For me, a small-town part-time pastor and part-time manager of the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce who simply set out to create local education opportunities more than 50 years ago, CMC’s current impact is hard to comprehend.
The college’s annual budget of $66 million, $45 million of which is from local property taxes, creates 1,200 jobs in our community, supplies thousands of workers to local employers, and creates $300 million in collateral investments in our communities. The college also provides cultural opportunities for theater, fine art, music, fitness and outdoor activities that would be impossible without the college (for comparison, look at the cultural opportunities available in mountain towns without a college).
Though we are celebrating the college’s 50th anniversary this year and its innumerable accomplishments, I fear that the college’s future is threatened by the Gallagher Amendment. This difficult-to-understand provision in the state’s constitution has the potential to unravel locally funded services in our small Western Slope communities.
Since 1982, the Gallagher Amendment has reduced local property tax revenue potential by 75 percent. While this is great for the individual, the result can be detrimental to local services like CMC. And, given that most of the homes in CMC’s service area are owned by people who do not live and work in the region, Gallagher disproportionately reduces opportunities for local residents. Left unchecked, Gallagher’s impact can only go one direction — toward zero.
I strongly support the Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees’ pursuit of a ballot question this fall. Their intent is not to raise new money for CMC, but to protect the college from future damage caused by population growth in the Front Range.
More than 50 years ago, the citizens of the central mountains decided to create a great local college. Since that time, CMC has become an essential part of the culture and economies of our towns. The question on the ballot this November would provide the trustees with an opportunity to protect CMC today and for future generations of teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers.
Fifty years ago, CMC started as an idea, a principle: that the towns in the numerous valleys throughout the central mountains deserve a great local college. The Gallagher Amendment has the potential to scrap generations of creativity, imagination and investment in our towns. So, when you consider Ballot Measure 4B this November, I ask you to imagine your communities without CMC. Please help us maintain CMC for another 50 years by voting yes on Ballot Measure 4B.
David Delaplane, is known as the “father of CMC.” He helped form Colorado Mountain College over 50 years ago while serving as the director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce.