UNM-LA set to state case

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UNM-LA officially received permission last week from the university’s Board of Regents to go ahead with its plans to ask the residents of Los Alamos to help shore up the schools ailing financial situation through a 2-mil increase in property taxes in September.
The permission came shortly after a presentation made by UNM-LA Director Cedric Page, a community support group called the Los Alamos Committee for Higher Education and support from the members of the UNM-LA Advisory Board.
A day after, members of LACHE and the UNM-LA Advisory Board met at UNM-LA to discuss what they shared with the Board of Regents Tuesday.
According to LACHE Chair Michael Wismer, declining state aid coupled with rising student enrollment played a key factor in the regents giving UNM-LA permission.
“The main message Cedric communicated was that we were in a dire situation,” Wismer said. “There’s been a 38 percent decline in revenue from the state over five years. Paired with the fact that there’s been a 14 percent increase in enrollment shows that we cannot sustain this trend.”
Wismer also shared a video that was played at the Board of Regents meeting that featured the support of County Council members.
“I believe that UNM-LA is a very important institution into our town and I believe in general that higher education brings a lot to the community and enriches our community. I’m in favor of the special election going forward,” County Councilor Kristin Henderson said in the video.
Also speaking in favor of UNM-LA in the video were County Councilors Rick Reiss, Vice Chair David Izraelevitz and Steve Girrens.
What LACHE has opted to do now is put together a fundraising committee as well as find ways to reach out to various sectors of the community through speaking engagements and advertisements.
If UNM-LA succeeds, the school predicts that the levy would generate $1.4 to $1.5 million a year in local revenue starting in 2015.
Resident Morrie Pongratz said one point they need to drive home to residents is how much of an asset the campus is to the community.
“This community has to pull up on every bootstrap it can find, because the silver spoon is slowly slipping out of our mouths,” he said during the discussion. “...Your property value depends on this community staying alive and prosperous. The amount you lose in the increase in property taxes is trivial in the amount your property value will go down if this community loses another thousand people.”
Though he wasn’t a part of the presentation to the UNM Board of Regents Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt wished his counterparts at UNM-LA luck and that he is fully behind the 2 percent levy increase as well.
Schmidt said that UNM-LA is a “collaborative partner with the school district” and noted that there’s been an increase in the number of high school students taking dual credits with the university. He also mentioned how UNM-LA has created new kinds of career and technical classes.
“UNM-LA is our university. This is our chance to have an on-site in-town education center. The better and more strategic initiatives that university provides, the better for us,” Schmidt said.
UNM-LA is also hoping timing will help with public opinion, also. In a report dated April 5, the report cited the fact that 2013 is probably the best opportunity they have.
“Fall 2013 is a critical window of opportunity for a successful mil levy election created in part by the momentum of successful education bond elections in November 2012 and January 2013, and the decision by the Los Alamos county administration to defer local tax increases,” the report said. “These events mean UNM-LA must take advantage of the opportunity to begin a campaign for a levy election on September 17, 2013 now.”
The report also estimated that many of the grants the school procured for certain programs are due to expire in the near future.
“The programs initiated by them can only be continued via a recurring revenue source such as the mil levy,” the report stated.