Meis, Rowland back county funds to CMU

The two Mesa County commissioners who will leave in January voiced support Wednesday for a request that the county pony up $3 million toward construction of a $17 million classroom building at Colorado Mesa University.

The one commissioner who will remain for two years was more cautious, however.

Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland, who are now in their final four months on the panel, said they could build a payment schedule into the county’s spending plan.

“If the numbers work, I can back $200,000 a year over 15 years,” Meis said after hearing a briefing by Colorado Mesa University President Tim Foster, who pegged his request to an estimate of the additional sales tax revenue such a project could generate.

Colorado Mesa University officials are aiming to boost enrollment by 8 percent next year, more than would be necessary to result in an increase of $200,000 in sales-tax revenue to the county.

Pegging the increase to the building project would otherwise leave the county’s budget unscathed, Meis noted, likening the proposal to tax-increment financing, much as is done with companies in enterprise zones.

“If this model is correct, then our budget should be fine,” Meis said.

So long as the contribution doesn’t force reductions in other programs, “I don’t see how we can say no,” Commissioner Janet Rowland said.

The contribution also is more palatable with plans to give employees one-time performance bonuses this year, as well as pick up a larger share of health insurance costs, Rowland said.

His only hesitation in endorsing the idea was the notion that it lets the state Legislature off the hook to pay for needed improvements at colleges and universities, Meis said.

Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who will embark on the last two years of his final term in January, said that setting aside $200,000 in the 2013 budget for the project can work, but the future is too hazy.

“In 2007, who would have thought that the bottom would fall out” as it did in late 2008 and 2009, Acquafresca said.

The commissioners are set to adopt a 2013 budget on Dec. 10.

The current commissioners said they hoped to discuss the university’s request and other budget matters soon after the successors to Meis and Rowland are known with the results of the Nov. 6 election.

Grand Junction has agreed to pay $7 million toward the new building, $500,000 a year for 14 years. Colorado Mesa University, meanwhile, is picking up the remaining $7 million.

In some senses, the funding plan reflects a return to the university’s roots as an institution funded by a local taxing district at its founding in 1927, Foster said.

Participation of the local governments will help fend off a tuition increase that otherwise might be needed to pay for such a project, and it also will help the college avoid a fee increase, Foster said.

The 56,000-square-foot building will house language, literature and mass communications classes in classrooms of 30 to 60 seats each and a 150-seat lecture hall.


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