BY MELANIE BUCK –
U.S. Senator John Boozman and U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman visited Rich Mountain Community College today, Thursday, May 28. RMCC President Phillip Wilson led the two on a tour of the facilities and expressed the impact that a community college has on those in the area around them.
Wilson said, “We have programs that change lives. Please don’t forget about PELL grants. A vast portion of our students qualify for PELL and it’s getting more difficult for us to do our job here. We run a very thin budget but you won’t see us take the word community out of our college. Our tuition runs about $72 per credit hour, we don’t do students loans, we’ve chosen not to, and every student that walks across our stage and graduates, they are debt free.” Wilson also said, “The only way to change people from tax consumers to tax producers is through higher education or technical programs.”
Westerman believes manufacturing is one key to solving the issue of losing some of the younger generation to bigger towns. “We need to get back to more manufacturing, that solves a lot of that. A kid going to college says ‘I’m going to get an education but what am I going to do’ but if you have the jobs here for them to come back, it builds the community,” Westerman said.
Wilson went on to explain that they would love to have technical programs at RMCC but they don’t have the funding to create the programs. He said it’s difficult to get grants for such programs and when they do get grants, they only cover a portion of the cost and then the issue becomes sustaining the programs.
Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison was also there and expressed his concerned over issues such as the federal governments’ lack of decision making when it comes to Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILT payments. Polk County has one of the states’ largest areas of federal land within the county and the federal government is not required to pay taxes on it.
PILT is supposed to compensate for the lack of land tax payments from the federal government however in recent years those payments haven’t been guaranteed leaving counties vulnerable to less funding. Judge Ellison explained part of the hardships, “$300,000 in Polk County is a big deal for us and it causes us to panic a bit to think we may not get that. If we could get a real budget and know how much we’re going to get, that’s what we want,” Ellison said. He added, “The federal government owns land in our county and nobody is paying taxes on it. Our Sheriff’s Department is rescuing people on it, our Emergency Management is rescuing people, we’re putting out fires, we’re keeping up the roads, we’re taking care of the land, so I think it’s an obligation and if the federal government can’t do that then maybe it’s time for them to return that land back to the people.”
“We’re with you 100% and as far as the budget, we’ve actually got one now,” said Senator Boozman. “Hopefully we can get this completed in a timely way.” Representative Westerman pointed out that the federal government owns one-third of the country.