On June 13, the Gila Community College (GCC) board will likely boost its property tax rate by 2 percent — the maximum allowed by state law.
The action comes after the board realized that the $400,000 surplus the district started with this year had turned into a projected $200,000 deficit.
“It will end up costing taxpayers about a dollar per $100,000 value of their homes,” said board president Larry Stephenson. “But it will only net approximately $75,000 for the district. It’s not like we’re winning the lottery…that’s what, the salary for a math teacher?”
Stephenson said no one has ever come to a meeting to oppose a property tax increase in the past.
Stephenson said the board has adopted a $6.3 million spending cap for next year, a decrease from this year of 1.7 percent. The district’s funding has declined with its enrollment.
The 2 percent increase in the property tax will cover about 1 percent of next year’s budget.
GCC relies on tuition, state aid and property taxes. However, Arizona has cut spending on higher education more than any other state in the past four years. The state cuts cost GCC an additional $35,000 this year.
Since 2008, the Arizona state Legislature has cut state support for colleges and universities by half, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Colleges responded by boosting tuition rates by 78 percent.
GCC did not increase its tuition this year, but has lost half of its enrollment in the past four years.
“The one thing I can say about our enrollment is that if we alter tuition, it alters enrollment,” said Stephenson.
The board has discussed the GCC tuition schedule for most of the past year without making a decision. Stephenson and board member Tom Loeffler would like to simplify the tuition schedule with a per-credit cost. Currently, students can essentially take the first two classes for the price of one.
“Right now, our full-time students subsidize those taking six credits or less,” said Stephenson.
The current tuition schedule has students paying for each credit up to three credits, nothing extra for the next three credits, then resume paying by the credit after six.
Loeffler said if students paid for each credit, a full-time student would pay less per semester.
The board’s discussion has stalled over the tuition schedule change because some believe the college would lose students if they changed the tuition structure.
However, enrollment numbers for Eastern Arizona College from the past four years, show the steadiest increase in enrollment has been among full-time students. Enrollment in other groups has dropped sharply, especially among seniors taking enrichment classes the district once offered for free.
Stephenson said Sam Moorehead, the newest board member, administered a survey on tuition changes. He plans to present his findings at the June 13 meeting.
In the published GCC budget, tuition will account for $1.4 million of the $6.3 million estimated budget. State aid will bring in $370,000 and grants will bring in $475,000.
Property taxes produce $3.8 million.
That leaves a deficit of $300,000.
The board has published its budget in Gila County newspapers, but Stephenson does not expect any members of the community to show up.
“Traditionally, nobody has shown up (to the public hearing) no matter what action we’ve taken,” said Stephenson.