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UM eyes asset sale to make ends meet

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Everything must go! One time only! A liquidation sale of Montana University System assets, such as the UM-owned and operated Center at Salmon Lake (net worth: $2.1 million), could be approved as early as the next Board of Regents meeting on May 29–30 in Great Falls. Should the sale be approved, student Regent Christian Hur, who first proposed the idea last month in Helena, believes the money could help offset the rise in resident fall tuition projected for all University System campuses. Costs to Montana kids are expected to increase anywhere from 6 to 11 percent for the 2004–2005 school year. To help out, the Regents are considering a liquidation of assets with a transfer of sale proceeds to existing campus financial aid programs.

Regent John Mercer thinks a major revision of Hur’s proposal may work—the original got shot down by a 7-1 vote. “Why in the heck doesn’t the University get rid of Salmon Lake?” Mercer asked at the Regents’ April meeting. “What does it cost? I can’t believe Salmon Lake is returning on its investment as it should be.” The answer, UM Vice President Robert Duringer later told the Indy—is that CSL is generating a profit. He says Salmon Lake pulled in $316,000, with operating expenses of $314,000 for fiscal year 2002—a meager $2,000 profit.

The center was a gift from local businessman Dennis Washington to the non-profit UM Foundation in December 1995. The foundation then leased the facility to UM for $1 a year. The center—a full-service convention facility and island retreat seven miles south of Seeley Lake—comes with one potential roadblock to any proposed sale: It’s not owned by the University. Nonetheless, Regent chairman Richard Roehm asked campus presidents—except UM President George Dennison, who was out of town—to “plan for mission accomplished” at the Regents’ next meeting. When another regent asked for clarification, Roehm’s reply was guarded. “I can’t tell you right now,” he said. “But if we have to approach real property, we need to proceed carefully.”

UM legal counsel David Aronofsky says there is no legal question as to who controls CSL, because UM has the rights to the center through the UM Foundation. “If someone made an offer, we’d have to consider it,” he says.

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