When the Carbon County Commission met last Wednesday, the lawmakers discussed a proposal to use mineral royalty for an endowment and scholarship fund at College of Eastern Utah. The commission voted 2-1 to proceed with the concept and work out the details about how the fund will operate.
"I believe I provided copies of the proposal to all the concerned parties," said Commissioner Bill Krompel at the beginning of the discussion. "This idea is basically to provide an economic stimulus in the area while also providing some scholarships and longevity for those at CEU."
The proposal states that the county will set up a scholarship and endowment fund for local students to attend CEU. Forty percent of the money contributed by the county will go directly to scholarships. The remaining 60 percent will go into an endowment which will eventually fund scholarships in the future.
Krompel said he had been batting the idea around for more than a year. He started to think about it when he found out Uintah County had been using mineral lease money to provide scholarships for local students.
"What we need to do is to make sure that the special service district that has been getting the money here is taken care of financially," explained Krompel. "They have some debt that we need to be sure is serviced."
The revenues would be used to provide scholarships for local students. The plan would free up money the college uses for local students so the school can recruit people from other areas.
"It's a kind of one for one," stated Krompel. "The statistics we have seen show that out-of-area students generate $10,000 in direct revenues to the area when they come here. That's over and above what is spent at the college."
The college is willing to spend more in the local area if a similar program is adopted, said Krompel. Currently, CEU spends about $6 million locally each year.
"What I would like to see is a program that creates some permanent benefit from the royalties we are now receiving and will receive in the future. This would strengthen our ability to protect our mineral lease money," said Krompel.
Commissioner Steve Burge had several comments regarding the proposal.
"I see the college growing with this money," stated Burge. "The student population locally is dwindling, but they can recruit plenty of students from other areas. This money could put something permanent here, but the focus has to be on economic development. I would like to see us do what Cedar City has done and make the college the starting place for that development."
The commission opened the discussion to the public for comments or questions.
"What I am asking for is that the commission not make a decision on this tonight," pointed out Tom Matthews. "I think more information needs to go to the whole county on this question. I think we have other needs. For instance, some of that money could go into the Price River Water Improvement District so we could get sewers to some of the people who don't have them."
Matthews asked whether there was a breakdown on the $6 million figure mentioned by Krompel.
"I am very concerned about this and the way the state is going," stated the former county commissioner. "The new governor has said she wants to make education her number one priority and to do that she'll need to get money from somewhere. Those funds could come from B and C road funds which would impact us right away."
"Everything you have said is true, but I think we just need to look hard at the needs we have and get more input from more people. We just need to be very careful about what we do," stressed Matthews.
Krompel indicated the idea was to make mineral money have a long-term impact on the community rather than only being used for infrastructure.
"The college, combined with student spending, puts $22.8 million in the economy," explained Krompel. "I just think it's critical we use this money for something long-term and that we don't become over reliant on it."
Several college supporters commented on the idea.
"I am anxious about economic development," said CEU President Ryan Thomas. "We try to use local suppliers and subcontractors whenever possible. What we would like to do is to get local businesses to qualify for state contracts so it is easier to buy from them. These dollars could mean more recruits from out of the area than ever before. We need to be able to offset what students have at home, a place to live and a part time job. We have found that a good experience for a student brings more from the same area. A good example of that is the Tremonton area. We have a large number of students from there because those that have come here before have had good experiences."
Thomas also made the suggestion that any money should remain with the county through a fund they could establish, rather than with the college. He felt that would protect the money and the colleges in case the legislature started to chop away at funds that belong to CEU.
There was also some discussion about the fact the college has 200 empty beds in the dorms. With the individuals to fill the beds comes money from the state, an average of $4,000 per year per student, according to college officials.
Cliff Coppersmith, vice president of academic affairs for the college, expressed support for the idea. Coppersmith explained that, where he came from, the area put money from energy development into education and it is about the only long-term benefit the community now enjoys from that long gone resource.
"I come from a small town in New York and the oil there has long since gone away," said Coppersmith. "The only things that remain today from that money are a Catholic university and a small community college. There are lots of products that come out of the ground, but the product we create here is education."
Pace Hansen, the chairman of the county's special service district board, was on hand at the commission meeting. The special service district is the current recipient of the mineral lease revenues. Hansen voiced some concerns about the funding going elsewhere without, what he felt, was proper consultation.
"I have always been a supporter of CEU, but the special service district is separate from the commission," stated Hansen. "It's purpose is to receive the money for Carbon County and I worry this could jeopardize that fund. I suggest if you elect to go this way that you talk with the board. No one in the district had heard anything about this until Monday. I think it is just premature to make this type of decision right now. I personally feel this is not an issue on which the board would turn you away."
Krompel said he had talked with a number of the county's special service district board members, but could not reach Hansen.
A number of people in attendance at the commission meeting supported the proposal. Many were affiliated with the college, but a couple that were not.
"As I've thought about this, it is a Solomon's decision to do this," pointed out Delynn Fielding, county economic development director. "We do have critical needs now, but this proposal would leave a legacy."
Commissioner Mike Milovich remained silent during the majority of the discussion. But before the lawmakers voted on the proposal, he made several comments.
"I think the college is a diamond in the rough for Carbon County," stated Milovich. "I would support this, provided we have the rest of the community's needs handled first. We are $1.9 million upside down in our budgets and we have debt through the service district that needs to be taken care of. I would be willing to help in every way, but we are not in the position to fund this right now."
Milovich also advised that the commission should have a legal public hearing on the issue before going ahead with a vote.
Krompel and Milovich had an exchange about the situation and Krompel told Milovich that he "thinks (the proposal) is an economic stimulus" and that it will improve the counties economy.
"We just have different views of the situation," stated Krompel.
Burge also had a reply for Milovich's comments.
"We'll always have needs every year, it said the commission chair. "I think we are meeting our needs now and none of this money will come out of the general fund. We need to think about the future and sacrifice now for that."
Hansen wondered whether the commission had the authority to take the action.
"There has to be a separation between the county and the special service district," emphasized Hansen.
But Krompel indicated that, according to his research, Utah Senate Bill 36 allows counties to distribute mineral lease money not only to special service districts, but to public and higher education.
Matthews asked whether the commission would wait for a legal public hearing as Milovich had suggested. But Burge and Krompel felt they had spoken with enough people about the situation and said they wanted to vote. Krompel suggested the county could have a public hearing on the details, but he felt the concept was fine.
"What good will a public hearing do then?" questioned Matthews. "Once you vote it, will be too late for the public to have input. It's just hard for me to accept that you are doing this."
Nevertheless, Krompel made the motion to accept the proposal in concept. Burge stepped down as chairman and seconded the motion. Burge and Krompel voted for the proposal, while Milovich opposed the action.