Despite a concerted effort by La Plata County commissioners and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, the county still has no word from the Federal Communications Commission about when it will act on a petition by the county to get Denver television.
Another issue discussed during an Eggs & Issues breakfast Thursday was an analysis of polling data by county commissioners as they mull asking voters for a mill levy increase. Also discussed was how the region can rally to improve the chances of Fort Lewis College obtaining $25 million in state funding to expand its Health Science Department through the addition of classrooms, labs, offices and common space at Whalen Gymnasium.
The inaction by the FCC is frustrating, La Plata County Manager Chuck Stevens told a crowd of more than 100 people who gathered for the breakfast meeting sponsored by the Durango Chamber of Commerce at the DoubleTree.
Stevens said La Plata County commissioners and county officials wrote letters to FCC commissioners meant to arrive a few days before Weiser’s visit to the FCC in March. The letter writing campaign, he said, was an effort to expedite action on the county’s petition to be moved from the Albuquerque designated market area to the Denver TV market.
“Our efforts appear to be largely ineffective. We haven’t heard a word about it since then,” Stevens told a crowd of about 150. “I thought we would have heard something; we haven’t.”
Stevens also told the crowd that county commissioners are beginning to review results from a poll meant to inform commissioners about whether to move forward with a request for a mill levy increase from voters in November.
La Plata County budgeted around $25,000 for the poll conducted by New Bridge Strategy.
Because of declining property tax revenues from natural gas operations, the county has seen property tax revenues decline from about $30 million in 2010 to $15.5 million in 2018.
Stevens has estimated the county mill levy would need to be raised 6.55 mills to achieve an operational balance, putting the county’s rate at about 15.5 mills, which still ranks within the bottom 10 Colorado counties.
“This will give us a new data point to move forward to address the issue,” Stevens said of information that should be gleaned from the poll.
Mark Jastorff, FLC vice president of advancement, said the school’s top priority is to get approval from the next session of the Colorado General Assembly for $25 million in state funds to pay for the first phase of a project to expand facilities for its Health Science Department.
“We are working to ensure the Legislature knows how important this project is not only for FLC but for workforce development. Right now, health science is the fastest-growing occupation,” Jastorff said.
FLC went into the 2018 legislative session with the project rated as one of the top capital-improvement requests by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
However, the rating for FLC’s project, which would expand Whalen Gymnasium in two phases, steadily fell as the Legislature’s Capital Development Committee and Joint Budget Committee repeatedly lowered the priority of the project – diverting limited state construction funds to Front Range universities and colleges.
Eventually, the project fell to the 15th-rated construction project for the state’s public universities and colleges. The Joint Budget Committee eventually approved funding for only the top 12 projects, all of which were on the Front Range.
State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, who spoke at the breakfast, said, “I fought for it, and the money just wasn’t there.”
Jastorff said FLC will get an opportunity to convey the importance of the project to members of the Capital Development Committee on June 13, when members will tour the campus.
Without funding for the project, the college says it won’t be able to support one of its fastest-expanding programs, exercise science, which has overcrowded classrooms and limited facilities. An expanded gym would house the programs and could attract new students and faculty. It could also be an asset for a region where trained health professionals are in short supply.
Whalen Gymnasium is home to basketball, volleyball and other indoor athletic events, as well as the exercise science program. Initially, FLC envisioned a $57.5 million, two-phase, multi-year plan to expand Whalen Gymnasium from 47,000 square feet to 121,000 square feet.