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PENDLETON — Umatilla County commissioners are considering giving a possible second round of American Recovery Plan Act funding to Blue Mountain Community College.

The board discussed the matter at its meeting Wednesday, June 1, in Pendleton.

In discussions with the White House and the National Association of Counties, commissioners learned the goals of proposed new ARA funding. One of three major goals is workforce development.

The commissioners recognized considerable news about the financial status of Blue Mountain Community College, Umatilla County’s major source of workforce training. They discussed the status of workforce training opportunities to meet local economic needs, and how that related to the budget issues at the college.

“(Considering) workforce investment and BMCC’s funding problem, we might possibly want to do that with emergency funding,” Commissioner Dan Dorran said. “This is a great conversation. Columbia Basin economic indicators show where job needs are. BMCC does a great job. Their criminal justice training program is great. Besides their college transfer programs, they offer targeted training programs.”

The criminal justice program is one of the areas the college administration is proposing to eliminate to close what it says is a $2 million gap in the 2022-23 budget. The administration’s proposal would eliminate 10 full-time instructor positions and several part-time teachers as well.

Dorran noted signs in Hermiston offering truck drivers $80,000 to $100,000. If the county were able to invest in BMCC, the school could partner with businesses in training programs.

Commissioner John Shafer agreed Blue Mountain is a “huge driver” of the area’s economy, citing Morrow County’s application of its gift from Amazon Web Services to the college.

“You see help wanted signs all over,” Shafer said. “We have county positions open.”

Shafer said the commissioners have expected the second half of Umatilla County’s $15.1 million ARA grant since May 11. However, the county still is waiting for that $7.5 million to arrive.

“They’re losing enrollment in some programs,” Commissioner George Murdock said of BMCC’s budget situation.

Given Murdock’s “strong conduit” to the college, his fellow commissioners suggested he open discussions with BMCC President Mark Browning. Murdock preferred that all three commissioners sit down with Browning.

“We need to make it clear that we don’t want to get in the middle of negotiations,” he said.

The Blue Mountain Faculty Association, the union representing instructors at the college, and the administration have been trying to reach a compromise on the upcoming budget. The faculty contends it has a plan to avoid layoffs; the administration argues the instruction is top heavy, with more teachers than the college needs for the demand it has.

The BMCC board is scheduled to approve a new budget on Monday, June 6.

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