Gila Board Questions $6.17m Spending Ceiling

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The question burned: Can Gila Community College re-examine its budget after approving it?

Some board members worried that the $6.17 million spending ceiling set Thursday wasn’t high enough to account for the possibility of a successful federal stimulus proposal. The budget also did not include revenue from tuition, which bothered some board members.

The college has requested $2.1 million in stimulus funds to pay for new buildings on the Payson and Globe campuses, along with money to begin a renewable energy program.

Payson board member Tom Loeffler worried that the college would not be able to spend any stimulus money if an award forced the school over its spending limit. Next year’s budget calls for just $275,000 in possible grants — the same as last year.

Public agencies cannot spend more than their total approved budget, although they can exceed line items.

Senior Dean Stephen Cullen said that he believed the college would be able to spend the money, even if unaccounted for in the budget. Anyway, the college’s only successful proposal was the $251,000 for its nursing program, Cullen said. The other proposals never gained traction.

Loeffler told Cullen that the money money was still possible because Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was examining the requests.

Still, the question remained: Could the board re-examine the budget?

“I think we should find that out before we pass,” this budget, Loeffler said.

Attorney Brian Chambers told the board they were limited to the budget before them because it had already been published in local media to notify taxpayers. However, the legal word came only after Chambers said he would have to research the question and Deputy County Manager John Nelson switched roles from audience member to podium presenter and also told the board they couldn’t spend above the originally set limit.

Cullen said the college would probably have trouble finding what money was already budgeted. The state legislature has not set its spending, which puts the college in limbo.

However, the legislative proposal cuts community colleges by $11.3 million.

Financing growth has already emerged as a problem for GCC, which receives less than half of the per-student funding as other rural community colleges. State law forbids Gila County from operating a community college because its property valuations and population numbers fall below thresholds.

This year’s $6.1 million budget is nearly 15 percent larger than last year’s $5.3 million budget. The college has budgeted $713,000 in state aid, but Eastern Arizona College’s Chief Business Officer Tim Curtis said that will likely decrease.

The college will also collect $3.1 million in property taxes, an increase of nearly 11 percent which Curtis said is mostly new construction. For existing taxpayers, the rate will drop to 53 cents per $100 from 55 cents per $100.

The budget lists no revenue coming from tuition. Cullen said that’s because the information isn’t available yet.

However, Curtis said previously that he doesn’t list the income because it goes directly to EAC, which runs GCC.

“Everything really runs through our books,” he said.

At the meeting, board member Larry Stephenson asked why the budget couldn’t offer an estimate of income from tuition. Cullen repeated that the information isn’t available yet.

This year’s budget did include $2.1 million in carryover, which the college does not actually have, according to Curtis. If the college received the same amount in grant money, the amounts could cancel each other out.

The budget also does not list expenditures by program. The largest line item is $5.9 million in “institutional support” costs. Curtis said this is the overhead to EAC for administrative support, which includes most management expenses. Last year, GCC paid EAC $4.1 million, which was $1.1 million under budget. The overhead is a percentage of incurred costs based on enrollment.

Legally, the board needed to pass a budget by June 20, a date which board chairman Bob Ashford pointed out as he urged the board to adopt the presented budget. “We can accept it, we just can’t spend it,” Ashford said about any received stimulus funds that would exceed the school’s expenditure limit.

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