Gcc’S Tax Rate Rising

College board OKs 9 percent rise in property tax rate

Gila Community College

Gila Community College Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The owner of a $200,000 home in Rim Country will pay approximately $3 more to Gila Community College (GCC) on their property taxes this year.

All told, the owner of that hypothetical $200,000 house will therefore pay about $150 annually to the district.

Homeowners whose property value has declined might actually end up paying less.

However, many homeowners whose swooning market values aren’t yet reflected in lower assessed values have been frustrated to find their property tax bills rising as their home values fall. Schools have approved most of the increases as they scramble to make up for dwindling state support.

For Gila County, property taxes account for more than half of the college’s $6.6 million budget. Last year, property tax collections totaled $3.5 million.

Tuition accounts for another 24 percent of the budget, one of the highest percentages in the state. Per-student payments from the state amount to just 6 percent of the budget, one of the lowest percentages in the state, since GCC is one of only two provisional community colleges.

Gifts, grants, contracts, investments and rollover funds account for the rest of the budget.

During its June 14 meeting, the GCC board voted to adopt its $6.6 million budget and also approved the increase in property taxes to the maximum allowed by state law.

By state statute, the college may legally increase the money it receives from property taxes by a maximum of 2 percent each year.

Senior Dean Steven Cullen said GCC has increased its property tax share for the last four years by 2 percent each year.

The college’s budget will barely change, but the property tax increase will help replace dwindling state funds.

The college board actually increased the property tax rate by 9 percent, in order to get 2 percent more money. That’s because the total assessed valuation in the district declined again this year, with little immediate sign of a recovery in the housing market.

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“I had one call ... they wanted to address the board, but they did not show up.” Larry Stephenson GCC board president

The decline in assessed value of homes will affect the tax rate, said board president Larry Stephenson.

As the assessed value of property drops, the rate charged to property owners increases to cover the dollar amount the college expects.

Between 2010 and 2011, the assessed value of property in Gila County dropped by about $500,000, prompting the 9 percent increase in the GCC tax rate.

The budget process is often a guessing game. The administration and board must guess how much money they will receive from tuition, grants, and state aid. They must also estimate what the upper limit of their costs might be.

“The college can’t spend more than what it publishes (in its budget),” said Trina Grantham, a Globe campus administrator.

By law, the college had to publish both its budget and its intent to increase property taxes to give the public time to respond.

“I had one call asking when the meeting would be,” said Stephenson. “They wanted to address the board, but they did not show up.”

The budget got a small lift from a modest increase in enrollment, defying predictions that rising tuition for seniors, dwindling regional population and hard times might lead to an enrollment decline.

The college still hasn’t heard from Gila County about whether to expect a continuation of a $300,000 payment to help cover the maintenance costs of the buildings the county owned before turning them over to the college district earlier this year.

The board deferred a discussion about tuition. Board member Thomas Loeffler has suggested a change in a tuition structure that features relatively high tuition for full-time students by state standards, but a bargain-basement rate for seniors and for part-time students taking more than one class.

The budget continues the current relationship with Eastern Arizona College, which imposes a 25 percent overhead charge on everything GCC spends — which amounts to more than $1 million annually. The money covers EAC’s costs in providing credentials for the provisional college and administrative services and staffing.

GCC won passage last year of a bill that would make it possible for it to shed its provisional status and seek a credential on its own. In the long run, that could equalize funding between GCC and other community colleges in the state. But in the short run, it would require GCC to hire more staff and seek accreditation.

The budget didn’t include any new money to move in that direction, although the board has recently insisted on a set of financial reports and discussed hiring a part-time financial staffer to help the board move toward independence.

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