Morrow County has been withholding a more than $600,000 donation from Blue Mountain Community College since April and now the college is in discussions with the county about how to undo the suspension.
Facing an enrollment crunch, the college says the money would help pay for investments like a new website and a review of academic programming. But first BMCC needs to convince the county it’s still committed to its campus in Boardman.
In April, the East Oregonian reported the Morrow County Board of Commissioners voted to suspend the dispersal of a gift it was set to give BMCC. The moves came on the heels of college planning to make changes at its Boardman campus during budget cuts.
In an interview, commission Chair Jim Doherty explained how the county was in the position to make a six-figure gift to the college in the first place.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Department of Revenue and the county realized that the government had undertaxed Amazon’s data centers in the Boardman area. Amazon wasn’t required to pay back the difference in taxes, but “in a sign of good faith,” offered the county $11 million to make up for the loss in tax revenue.
The money didn’t come with strings attached, but the county decided to split it between itself and the cities, school districts and other local governments throughout Morrow County.
Blue Mountain Community was supposed to receive more than $627,000 as a part of the plan. While BMCC is headquartered in Pendleton, it also serves Baker and Morrow counties and maintains its Workforce Training Center in Boardman, Morrow County’s largest city and an industrial hub.
Doherty said the commissioners decided to withhold the money because they weren’t sure it was going to stay in Morrow County.
“When the crux is either those dollars go there and it shores up whatever Blue Mountain looks like going forward, but it does so at the demise of our Workforce Training Center, that’s a tough balance,” he said.
Donation could still happen
BMCC President Mark Browning said the incident was caused by a misunderstanding.
The Workforce Training Center was one of the centerpieces of a bond the college passed in 2015 and industrial science technology was supposed to be one of its flagship programs. But Browning said enrollment has dwindled to just two students this year.
Although the college does want to end the industrial science technology program, Browning said BMCC has always intended to replace it with different programming in Morrow County. The college is looking into creating new programming in Boardman, like a diesel technology class.
Browning said western Umatilla and Morrow counties are where BMCC wants to recruit future students for its workforce programs.
Both sides are still talking, and Browning is hopeful that the county will eventually release the money to the college.
Even if Blue Mountain Community College can come to an agreement with Morrow County, it still has some crucial budget decisions ahead of it.
The college had previously announced its intention to cut 10 faculty positions to address declining enrollment. The announcement was met with swift opposition from the faculty union.
The college and union are holding private talks over the scope of the staff reductions, but public budget discussions are set to resume in June.