Community College Budget Projected At $6.3m

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Despite a still ambiguous financial picture, Gila Community College could pass its $6.3 million budget for next year on Thursday.

Then on June 25, the board could discuss Senior Dean Stephen Cullen’s proposals to shave $500,000 in expenses, according to board member and Payson resident Tom Loeffler. Those recommendations would then ideally guide Eastern Arizona College officials as they execute cuts. GCC is a provisional college that operates under the auspices of EAC, which makes most of GCC’s decisions.

Possible financial saviors include potential stimulus money, and a request for $300,000 from the county.

Nobody knows how much money GCC will lose next year. Many of the proposed budget’s numbers are guesstimates and will decrease, said Tim Curtis, the chief business officer for Eastern Arizona College.

The legislature recently passed a budget plan that calls for $11.3 million in cuts to community colleges. In a potential offset, The Arizona Republic reported that the state will divvy $58 million to its community colleges in federal stimulus funds.

While the state traditionally cuts GCC’s aid equally to other rural community colleges, it receives less than half the per-student funding as others, Cullen has said.

Earlier this month, Cullen appeared before the county supervisors to tell them that he would soon ask for money, although he refrained from actually asking or mentioning a specific dollar amount.

However, Board Chairman Bob Ashford wrote a letter to the county, asking for $300,000. Without the money, Ashford wrote, the college may have to cut programs, furlough support staff four days each month and eliminate some positions.

Ashford also wrote that the college board is also contemplating increasing tuition 30 percent and eliminating senior scholarships.

“It would be devastating to our students and staff if reductions and furloughs became a reality; however, it is almost a certainty without the financial assistance of Gila County,” Ashford wrote.

The college has already laid-off 12 part-time employees, three full-time employees and cut hours at its two wellness centers, Cullen told supervisors.

Supervisors gently mocked Cullen but said they would consider supporting the college.

“The whiners are back again,” joked Supervisor Shirley Dawson.

“It’s me again,” Cullen began. “Let me share with you, madam chair, our plight, if you will.”

The community college’s enrollment, which is the most rapidly rising statewide, has risen 30 percent in the past four years, up to an average of 4,000 annually, Cullen said.

Because the county falls below legislatively set property valuation and population thresholds, it is unable to operate its own community college.

The college saves the county at least $1 million annually because the county used to subsidize out-of-county tuition for residents taking classes at Eastern Arizona College before GCC existed, Cullen said.

Last year, the legislature eliminated the college’s capital funding — a $158,000 hit for GCC. The college also received only $658,000 of the $740,000 it was supposed to receive in other state money, according to Curtis. Next year’s projected $713,000 in state money is a guesstimate that could decrease, he added.

And the budget lists the college as having $2.1 million in reserves, but Curtis said the school actually has “very little, if anything” stashed away.

Curtis said while the official numbers would likely not change, college officials would take steps internally to spend less.

The existing budget calls for the tax rate to decrease by about 2 cents, down to roughly 53 cents, while the total amount collected increases by almost 11 percent, up to $3.1 million. Curtis said new construction accounted for most of the increase.

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