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Attorney general opinion on funding goes college's way

AG opinion on construction funding goes CWC's way

Jul 8, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff Writer

Wyoming Attorney General Gregory A. Phillips has ruled on how state reimbursement should be done for Central Wyoming College's health and science center construction.

His opinion supported the wishes of the college.

CWC administration grew concerned as disagreements arose with Wyoming Community College Commission staff about how state funds should be distributed.

The debate surrounded $6.55 million in funds approved by the Wyoming Legislature in 2011 for the health and science center's construction.

It was the opinion of CWC staff and state Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, that reimbursement for construction bills would be 100 percent until expended, and then the college would begin using the $11 million approved in 2010 by Fremont County voters.

However, there was some thought on the behalf of commission staff and the State Auditor's Office that payment for each bill should be roughly split in half, similar to a matching grant.

"I don't think we had planned anything," said WCCC executive director Jim Rose of how to pay the bills, emphasizing his office wanted to do what was required by law.

Rose said the auditor's office had concerns with 100 percent reimbursement, so in May he approached the Wyoming Attorney General's Office for an opinion.

This caused a delay in the payment of more than $300,000 to contractors.

The delay sparked heated discussion during the CWC's Board of Trustees meeting June 20, with president Jo Anne McFarland mentioning legal action as a last resort.

Rose received Phillips's opinion June 29, and the letter was dated June 22.

"We conclude that the legislature did not require the Commission to reimburse the community colleges as a match," Phillips wrote. "The Commission should reimburse the college's construction costs until the appropriated funds are exhausted."

The opinion also addressed a $7.5 million appropriation to Northwest College in Powell. Phillips ruled the same opinion for it as he did for CWC.

Rose said he did not receive the same criticism from Northwest as he did from CWC.

"The legislature did not restrict the funds other than to say that the funds expire if construction has not begun on or before June 30, 2012," Phillips wrote.

"Notably, the appropriation does not state that the funds are to be disbursed on a 50% basis. ... In other words, without a legislative directive to the contrary, the Commission must reimburse the colleges in full for allowable building expenses as long as appropriated funds are available."

Rose is glad to have the opinion in hand and is ready to move forward.

"It's a relief to me to have a decision rendered," he said.

Rose said he and his staff are committed to what Phillips ruled.

After receiving the opinion June 29, commission staff began processing the requests for payment related to CWC's project.

"Things should be in motion now," Rose said.

CWC vice president for administrative services Ron Granger said he is also pleased.

On top of the first $300,000 bill, another $1.3 million payment is forthcoming. He was afraid the college might need to pull from its own funds to pay it.

There will be no delay in construction because of unpaid bills Granger said.

"I just am glad it happened that way, and we're moving forward," he said.

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