Dr. Epper

During the regular meeting of Trinidad City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 15, among items discussed, the first was a presentation of Trinidad State Junior College President Dr. Rhonda Epper regarding an issue that she stated had been a problem for some time for the college, which is the issue of their name. Now, Trinidad State Junior College is proposing during the next legislative session in January to drop the word “Junior” from their name, along with two other Colorado community colleges.

“We believe this name is outdated and it is inhibiting our work to try to grow student enrollment,” said Epper. “Our system office as well as myself have been doing research on junior college names and out of about 1465 two year institutions throughout the nation, only 15 remain that have the word “junior” in their titles.”

Epper explained that most colleges that have Junior in their names were established very early on and furthermore by dropping the word, it would allow the college to attract more students.

“The name Junior carries with it a negative connotation,” said Epper. “Our market in higher education is every year becoming more and more competitive and we have declining high school enrollments in our rural communities. We need to be able to position ourselves as a modern institution with highly reputable programs.”

Already, the college offers several four-year Bachelor’s degrees and they hope to offer more as they are able. Because the name change requires a change of statute, the name change will be introduced in legislation in January.

“It will be introduced in the senate with prime sponsorship from our new senator Cleave Simpson and it will be cosponsored in the House by representative Donald Valdez,” said Epper. “We’re assuming it will pass and hoping it will pass, but we won’t know that until it is actually approved by the legislature.”

Councilmembers all expressed support of the change to maximize how the college is utilized and drawing more students.

With Las Animas County passing a resolution in support of a variance protection program, known as the Five Star Program, Trinidad City Manager Mike Valentine explained they had been asked to write a letter of support expressing a commitment to work with other local officials to make the program possible.

“We can have our own certification program with the health department, the county, the hospital, and city all on board to self-certify businesses through the program,” said Valentine. “This resolution doesn’t commit us to anything but says we will work with these entities to start developing this Five Star program to help our businesses. The first step is putting together an administration committee.”

Once they find direction from the state, the resolution will be the first step of have everything in place to move forward with certifying businesses for the program. But Valentine added that staffing needs to keep the program running was still a difficulty that would need to be worked out.

County Commissioner Luis Lopez was present in support of the resolution and spoke to the county’s efforts to be ready to roll out the program should the state allow it.

“There are a lot of particulars that have not been resolved yet,” said Commissioner Lopez. “We’re expecting some clarification regarding the Five Star program in a few days, but the commissioner’s office thought it better to be proactive in order to be ready if we were allowed to do such a variance on behalf of our community.”

Also during the meeting, the first reading of an emergency ordinance authorizing and directing the implementation of the City of Trinidad COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Program No. 2 was also read. Because emergency ordinances require only one reading, council authorized another $500,000 for the program.

“This time around, we want to accelerate those funds being granted,” said Valentine. “A lot of things have happened over the course of the pandemic and we feel the businesses would benefit better with a one-time package. That includes, three months of utility bill credits and a one-time $1500 stimulus.”

Valentine expressed they hope to get these funds to businesses who need them as quickly as possible so they wouldn’t have to worry about utility bills for a bit. $400,000 of the $500,000 total would be allocated for businesses while the remainder would be used for individuals who may have had to be laid off due to the level red dial change.

“Not knowing how long this level red is going to last, there is still the possibility of more funding should council decide to continue this,” said Valentine.

Among other topics of the council meeting, Finance Director Cheryl Navarette gave a rundown of what the city had decided to allocate funds for in regards to their projects list for 2021.

With $8.4 million to commit, listed for approval was river walk improvements for $1 million, Exit 14 improvements for $809,000, West Main Street improvements for $2.6 million, a cover for the city’s swimming pool for $1.25 million, economic development land acquisition for $941,000, uncompensated absences for $1 million, Eagle Rock subdivision for $300,000, and fleet for $500,000.

“That should leave us $6.5 million remaining in the budget for unassigned emergencies that occur,” said Navarette.

Council also welcomed Bob Just as the newest addition to the City of Trinidad team serving as the public works director.

“Bob Just comes to us with a lot of experience,” said Valentine. “We’re really excited to have him join our team.”

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