College Budget, Tuition Rise

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Gila Community College (GCC) plans on a modest property tax rate hike that will increase district property tax revenues by 4.7 percent, due to an ongoing decline in assessed values.

In a presentation to the board, district administrators said the district will need to raise property taxes by 2 percent on existing property and that new construction will yield an additional 2.7 percent. The increase will boost the district’s property tax revenue by $177,000 to about $4 million.

However, in a published copy of the budget the district said the net rate per $100 of assessed value would increase by 10.3 percent. At press time, district officials were not immediately available to explain the figures.

The public can ask questions about the budget and tax rate on May 15.

“The bulk of what we garner for resources are property taxes,” said Stephen Cullen, dean of the two GCC campuses.

The board is considering a $6.9 million budget, an increase of about nearly 7 percent from last year. Of that total, nearly $4.2 million comes from property taxes and another $1.4 million from tuition. The district will get about $346,000 in state support, a decline of about $24,000 or 6.6 percent from this year.

The budget would include about $540,000 in reserve funds.

On the expenditure side, the budget calls for spending about $7,000 for each full-time student equivalent, which is based on adding up all the units and figuring out how many full-time (12 units) students that equals. The budget anticipates nearly 1,000 full-time equivalent students.

The district relies more heavily on tuition than most other community colleges, because it gets little state support. That’s true for most community colleges these days, but goes double for GCC, which is a provisional community college that relies on Eastern Arizona College for its credential and management — paying about $1 million annually for the service.

The problem with the reliance on tuition lies in the unpredictable swings in enrollment. This year, GCC hopes to bank $1.4 million in tuition dollars. How­ever, a recent tuition increase will likely have an unpredictable impact on enrollment. The board voted to match EAC’s tuition rates recently, which involved a significant increase for most students. The board overruled the opposition of board member Larry Stephenson who argued the board should set its own rates — and the administration should work up estimates on how the frequent changes in tuition rates will affect enrollment.

“You have repeatedly told us that raising tuition makes enrollment go down,” said Stephenson to Dean Cullen.

“I don’t see a problem, it’s not going to hurt enrollment,” said Cullen in response.

The board voted to increase tuition for the 2014-15 year, while keeping tuition free for those 55 and older.

The district’s enrollment has fluctuated significantly in the past several years as the board has made changes in the tuition schedule — especially rates affecting seniors. The board eliminated free tuition for seniors several years ago, then hastily restored the tuition waivers when enrollment plunged.

During the discussion on how Cullen and his staff created a balanced budget, Stephenson had concerns about carrying over more than $500,000 from the past year.

“If I am understanding this correctly, if we had not saved we would not be able to balance the budget (this year)?” said Stephenson. “Again, the revenue we are spending is more than what we are getting.”

Cullen explained to Stephen­son that GCC staff are adept at saving money and does so every year, therefore the cash account always has money.

“We are very frugal,” said Cullen. “One college administrator said, ‘How do you do it in Gila?’ (We said) very cautiously.”

On the expenditure side, GCC expects the Gila County Board of Supervisors will stop paying for building costs because GCC bought land it had held in trust until GCC could buy the land. That added more than $300,000 to the expenditure side of the budget.

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