Community College Asked To Return $428,183

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The state treasurer's office is requesting the return of $428,183.87 in sales tax revenues it "erroneously" sent to Gila Community College, claiming that as a provisional district, GCC is not eligible for these revenues.

At January's GCC board meeting, several citizens, including Dan Happala, questioned whether GCC's lobbyist would fight at the legislature for GCC to keep the money

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Bob Ashford

Sales tax revenue money is slated for "work force development."

Work force development classes prepare people for jobs, or improve their skills so they are able to be more proficient in the jobs they already have, according to Payson campus Dean Harry Swanson.

"Of course, we would love to keep the work force development (sales tax) funds in Gila County," said Bob Ashford, board chairman. "We will explore every avenue available in our quest to state our case in the right of a provisional community college district to share in work force development funding.

"Every other community college district in Arizona enjoys the benefit of sharing in the sales tax generated in their counties for work force development activities ... we believe that Gila County is also entitled to enjoy the same benefit ... the benefit of utilizing a small portion of the state sales tax generated in our county in the development of our work force. Our responsibility to the Gila County taxpayer is to make every effort to get our fair share of the pie."

The Jan. 6, 2006 letter from E. Blaine Vance, deputy state treasurer, was addressed to former GCC president Barbara C. Ganz. It specifically requested the "monies erroneously sent," $226,217.01 for fiscal year 2005 and $201,966.86 for fiscal year 2006, be returned.

"As of this date, we have not returned any monies to the state treasurer's office," said Ashford. "We first need to get the status of both FY2005 and FY2006 confirmed. It would be ludicrous and gross mismanagement of public funds to assume the FY2006 check is in transit and send the state treasurer's office a check for $428,183 in payment for both years. We will make no payments to the state treasurer's office until the status of FY2006 funds are verified."

In November 2000, the education funding package (Proposition 301) amended Arizona Revised Statutes to distribute sales tax revenues to community college districts.

Because GCC is a provisional community college, it is not eligible for sales tax revenue distributions, wrote Todd Bayne, Arizona legislative council attorney, in his June 2005 memo to Rep. Laura Knaperek of Maricopa County, chairwoman of the legislature's universities, community colleges and technology committee.

According to Vance, the treasurer's office did not receive notification from Knaperek of Bayne's opinion until three months later.

In December, the treasurer's office received verbal confirmation from the attorney general's office concurring with the legislative council's opinion.

Although Ashford hopes for a ruling in favor of GCC's keeping state sales tax revenues, when specifically asked by the Roundup if the lobbyist hired by EAC and GCC was going to fight for those sales tax revenues in the legislature or if this might be an agenda item, he responded as before:

"If a ruling in favor of Gila Community College prevails, the entire amount of work force development funding will be used in Gila County. We will not automatically disburse a percentage to our postsecondary educational partner, Eastern Arizona College."

Mike Gardner, the lobbyist with Triadvocates, did not respond to phone calls from the Roundup.

GCC board meetings are usually held the second Thursday of each month and are broadcast between Payson and Globe through interactive television. The agenda is posted at the Payson campus Tuesday before the meeting.

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