Long-awaited budget projections for Gila Community College were released Thursday night, ending months of playing guess the deficit.
Later in the evening, one local community activist asked about the status of a related, forthcoming legal opinion. The question spurred the board chairman to warn the resident that she veered toward disorder.
The finance estimates for GCC, compiled by Eastern Arizona College Executive Vice President Brent McEuen, projected a shortfall of $742,842 by the end of the fiscal year.
The figures included several potential revenue streams, including a $420,000 nursing grant that the college may not receive, $658,400 in state aid, which the legislature may hack, and another speculative $175,000 in federal stimulus funding.
Board chairman Bob Ashford promised the figures would be revised monthly. EAC is willing to “carry” GCC as long as the college “continues to act prudently with budgeting and expenditures,” Ashford said.
GCC owes EAC $1.6 million, which Ashford said the college will pay shortly. EAC handles GCC’s finances because Gila County is legally prohibited from running its own accredited institution.
Member Larry Stephenson hailed the information, saying, “This is something we’ve been calling for a long time.”
The board has for months lacked basic information regarding the college’s deficit.
In June, the board adopted a budget that listed $2 million in reserves. Weeks later, Senior Dean Stephen Cullen informed the board of a $2 million deficit, and soon after revised the figure to $500,000.
Meanwhile, EAC has cut costs by laying off GCC staff members and furloughing administrative staff four days each month. GCC board members raised tuition by 30 percent and reduced waivers for senior tuition, effective in January.
Discrepancies between the approved budget and actual figures prompted the board to ask for legal advice.
Thursday, Payson resident and community activist Chris Tilley asked Ashford about the forthcoming opinion.
After Ashford replied that he could not respond because the agenda did not list the topic, Tilley asked if he could place it on the next agenda.
“You’re kind of getting out of order now, ma’am,” Ashford told her. “You’re a member of the public and you can’t request for items to be placed on the agenda. OK? Thank you.”
A short legal debate ensued about whether the board could respond to Tilley. At least twice during the meeting, various board members disagreed about whether asking a question constituted discussion, which is prohibited on non-agendized topics.
A county attorney earlier that night advised a board member not to ask a question because the matter was not listed on the agenda.
Finally, Stephenson asked for the budget discrepancy issue to appear on the next agenda.
Ashford told him to e-mail his request to an assistant and didn’t offer a definitive answer.