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NWC leaders eyeing potential budget cuts

Even as Northwest College administrators and trustees are putting the final polish on a budget for fiscal year 2013, which starts July 1, they’re already anticipating — or dreading — fiscal year 2014.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has instructed all state agencies, including Wyoming community colleges, to prepare to trim 4 to 8 percent from their budgets next year due to the continued lower-than-expected price of natural gas. Severance taxes from natural gas have contributed much of the state’s revenue since the turn of the century.

“If we take an 8 percent cut, that would impact our budget to the tune of $920,000,” said NWC President Paul Prestwich.

College leaders were getting closer to a plan for a potential cut of 4 percent when they received the instruction to increase that to 8 percent.

“If we receive a cut like that, we still would have a lot of work to do to get to that,” Prestwich said. “We haven’t identified what that would look like, but our conversations have started.”

Prestwich said it is helpful to have a year’s advance notice to make plans for a likely cut.

“The time will be helpful to us,” he said.

“We’re trying to be conservative as we plan next year’s budget,” he said. For example,“there are a couple of positions that we’ll just leave vacant, and we’ll save money in an ongoing way. We always evaluate, but any open position in the next couple of years will receive an increased level of analysis about whether to fill that position.”

Everything is on the table for consideration, he said.

“To get to a cut that’s that large, you have to look throughout the institution. That includes both staffing as well as other operational costs. ... It’s unlikely we would be able to accomplish a cut that large without a reduction in staff, but reduction in staff happens in lots of ways, such as retirements and resignations.

“We hope we can do it without layoffs. But it’s possible. I think it has to be on the table, depending on how large the cut is.”

One thing is working unexpectedly in the college’s favor. Sheldon Flom, NWC director of finance, told the NWC board last month that, when he was working up the budget for the coming budget year, he inadvertently left in the $200,000 budgeted last year for purchasing a firearms simulator as a repeated annual expense. Taking that out now gives the college a $200,000 head start on planning for a budget cut next year.

“It’s bad for me, but good for you,” Flom said.

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