Wick News Service
The college’s total property tax levy will increase by 2 percent next year, amounting to an additional $3.39 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, following the unanimous approval of the governing board on Tuesday. The tax increase and spending reductions of about $1.737 million, which include more than $1 million in personnel reductions, enable the college to adapt to a reduction of more than $2.4 million in equalization money and conservative projections on enrollment-based revenue.
This year’s unexpected enrollment decline, after several years of substantial increases, meant the college ended up spending less than it had budgeted for in the current year, Vice President for Administration Kevin Butler said, on Thursday. So while the general fund actually dropped by about $2.258 million for next year, beginning July 1, the college only had to reduce expenditures by $1.737 million to get to the $38.12 million general fund total.
Although the college expects enrollment to plateau, Butler budgeted conservatively, assuming a reduction of $658,530 from tuition, registration and student fees, he said.
The enrollment decline turned out to be very small at the year’s end, even though the college started with significantly fewer students, President J.D. Rottweiler said, during Tuesday’s board meeting. That indicates more students were retained over the course of the year, which is a good sign based on very limited data.
Yet the major hit to the college came as a result of declining property values in other areas around the state, which resulted in a 30 percent reduction to Cochise College’s share of state equalization money. This money is given to rural districts that cannot generate as much money taxing property as urban ones.
“Next year looks about the same or worse,” Rottweiler said. That means the college will have to continue to closely analyze its hiring to make sure its being as efficient and effective as it can be.
This reduction comes after the college has absorbed several years worth of state cuts already, leading to a reduction of about 25.6 percent of state aid over three years, according to Rottweiler’s presentation to the board in April.
For the first time, the college has implemented a Reduction in Force (RIF), laying off an offset press operator and a part time office specialist, which amounts to 1.5 full time positions, according to Rottweiler. A computer science instructor and construction coordinator were laid off but moved into other open positions offered by the college.
Throughout this process the college has strived to be employee friendly, future focused and student centered, Rottweiler said. That means making cuts where they need to be made, while also being proactive and investing in areas identified for growth.
The budget provides for the addition of instructors in biology, agriculture and nursing. It also includes about $760,000 to start the renovation of the aviation and metal art building.
A 3 percent raise for all regular employees is included in the budget, for the first time in several years, as are some of the most vital maintenance projects that have been deferred in recent years, Rottweiler said.
Two people spoke out against the property tax increase on Tuesday, citing concerns about living on a fixed income and facing increased taxes from other sources. One spoke in favor of the increase. The board members made no comments during the public hearing on the budget.
The property tax rate will increase from $1.6657 to $1.7329 per $100 assessed value, which is a 4 percent rate increase but only returns a 2 percent levy increase on existing property, Butler said. The college can only increase its levy by a maximum of 2 percent each year, by state law.
Staff reductions at Cochise College (savings approximate)
Employees laid off
• Offset Press Operator, $46,954.
• Office Specialist (part time), $17,279.
Employees laid off but offered other positions
• Instructor, computer science, $44,853.
• Coordinator, Construction, $78,433.
Positions reduced through attrition
• Associate Faculty, $315,896.
• Non-student Hourly, $198,562
• Instructor, Spanish, $78,426
• Instructor, Art, $69,724.
• Instructor, Art, $67,638.
• Instructor, reading, $70,417
• Director, professional development, $65,956.
• Administrative Assistant (.5 FTE), $18,984.