Guest commentary: Colorado Mountain College gives gratitude, promise for future
In the recent midterm election, history was made. Aside from all the attention on national and statewide matters, Colorado Mountain College became the largest special district in the history of the state to successfully "de-Gallagherize" its revenue. By a margin of more than 2-to-1 (71 percent to 29 percent), every single community in CMC's six-county taxing district voted to support measure 7D. In a noteworthy parallel to CMC's founding, 53 years ago the citizens of our mountain communities voted to create Colorado Mountain College, also by a margin of 2-to-1.
To all of our residents and loyal supporters of Colorado Mountain College: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to understand the very serious but unintended impacts of the Gallagher Amendment on rural Colorado. Thank you for supporting the financial health and viability of a college that, for more than 50 years, has been the only provider of first responders, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other professionals in our mountain communities. Most important, thank you for your confidence and faith in the college's board of trustees, leadership team, employees, faculty and students. Together, we are truly humbled and honored by your overwhelming support of initiative 7D.
To all of the fire districts and other special districts that successfully passed similar measures: Congratulations. Regardless of 7D and other locally driven initiatives, the Gallagher Amendment continues to threaten rural Colorado. By constantly and arbitrarily lowering revenue levels to local services, the Gallagher Amendment is weakening the very services that enable rural residents to enjoy a high quality of life no different than any other Coloradan.
If left unchecked, the Gallagher Amendment will continue to disproportionately tax commercial properties while diluting revenue from residential properties. Small and locally owned businesses are the lifeblood of mountain communities, and yet the Gallagher Amendment saddles them with a tax burden four times the level assessed for residential properties. This increases costs for our businesses while threatening essential services like fire, health care, infrastructure and education.
Our local legislators are aware of these issues and are prepared to address them. In 2018, Representatives Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Dylan Roberts (D-Eagle) advanced several ideas to the Legislature. None got traction, but a legislative interim committee was formed — Rep. Rankin served on it — that studied the issues related to Gallagher and proposed a number of solutions. The future success of the ideas that came from that study committee is unknown, but one thing is certain: Until the Legislature acts on meaningful and comprehensive solutions to the Gallagher Amendment, our communities should expect to see more and more "de-Gallagherizing" initiatives like 7D, resulting in wide disparities in services throughout rural Colorado.
And, remember, de-Gallagherizing is a local fix; it is not a long-term or equitable solution for our state. Unless the new administration and general assembly get serious about the effects of Gallagher and work on a permanent fix, residential assessment rates will continue to slide toward zero. With all that is at stake in rural communities, inaction would be irresponsible, not to mention ignorant of voter intent where special districts were created with local support to fund essential services. We are one Colorado, not one where historic population and housing growth in one region of the state should bring harm to another.
Along with CMC's elected trustees, the hundreds of residents employed by CMC and the nearly 20,000 students who enroll in one of the college's 11 campuses every year, we cannot begin to express our gratitude to the cities and towns we all call home. 7D is not a blank check or an invitation to spend. It's the opposite, in fact, as it simply ensures that the college's future revenues will not be cut. 7D allows the college to fulfill the education and training needs of dozens of mountain resort communities and to meaningfully plan for the future without constantly worrying that the financial floor will fall out from under us.
Your overwhelming support of 7D made charting the college's next 50 years much more promising and purposeful. Thank you again. We will not let you down.
Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at email@example.com or @CMCPresident.