NWC trustees begin budget discussions, look to the future

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The Northwest College Board of Trustees took a preliminary look at the fiscal year 2018-19 budget when it met last week.

After weathering some financial storms the past few years, the state’s budget projections are showing signs of stabilizing statewide — and there are even signs of modest growth in some areas.

While the budget process is just beginning at NWC, college president Stefani Hicswa is optimistic.

“There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to have a first reading of the budget prepared for the board in June,” Hicswa said. “[But] I feel more optimistic about our revenue than I have in the last few years.”

Lisa Watson, vice president of administrative services and finance, said the college is projecting a $650,000 reduction in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year. That’s in part because of an expected slight decrease in state appropriations, stemming from a reduction in the Wyoming Community College Commission’s budget.

The news is not all bad on the revenue side, however. While tuition is staying the same per credit in 2018-19, the board approved a $2.50 per credit fee increase at an earlier meeting; that fee is capped at 15 credit hours. The board also has approved a 50 cent increase to all credit-hours for facility improvements, which is expected to bring $53,000 in additional funds for 2018-19.

The college also is receiving an additional 10 percent in county-wide property taxes, which calculates out to $30,000 for the college’s one mill.

“I actually feel more optimistic than I have for a couple of years,” said Nada Larsen, president of the NWC Board of Trustees. “We do see some movement in local revenues. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will get all of it; other than the one mill, it all goes into that state formula. ... In general, we are not losing as much as I feared we would from state funding. The Legislature was better to us than we had thought they might be. I really am more optimistic than I have been for a while, but it’s difficult to absorb these cuts. We know that we need to keep up with market for our employees and in order to maintain what we’re doing.”

That said, Larsen would like to see the state allow for some modest tuition increases down the road.

“I’m hopeful that the commission will do some reconsideration of what’s going to happen further down the line,” Larsen said. “Next year, of course is set, but for 2020, I’m hoping the commission will do some reconsideration of what to do with the cap and/or what to do with increases in tuition.”

“It’s a debate,” she added. “Because we don’t want to put our tuition out of reach for students.”

Another bright spot for the upcoming budget is that the college plans to prioritize salary increases for its employees, Hicswa said.

“We have determined that is the most important priority for this budget,” Hicswa said. “And we are doing our best to be able to give our employees an increase, both for cost of living and to adjust for market competitiveness — (and) both are important.”

In another major item of business, the board also approved a slate of future major maintenance requests to the state for the next two fiscal years.

Among the items that the board will submit for state funding requests are repairs and renovations to the Orendorff Building, Fagerberg Building, Cabre Gym, the Science and Math Building and the final phase of renovating the Johnson Fitness Center — all of which will cost more than $100,000 each. There also is close to $600,000 in upgrades and renovation to the main campus.

For fiscal year 2019-20, the Oliver Building, West Campus, Frisby Building and the main campus are each slated for six-figure repairs and renovations, if the state agrees to fund them.

“Those are projects that are needed,” Hicswa said. “As we were talking during the board meeting, it’s how do you prioritize one year over another? Those are hard decisions to make and we’ve had a lot of help from state construction management in making those determinations. It’s needed improvements that we have to do, so doing it strategically, with some foresight and some planning time is the way that I want to proceed with all of our projects on campus, not just major maintenance.”

Larsen echoes Hicswa’s sentiments.

“Our infrastructure is aging,” Larsen said. “It’s hard to keep up with it, but we are not alone in some of this. Western Wyoming [Community College in Rock Springs] has some really major problems with their infrastructure. The state is looking at different ways to deal with some of this.”

One item the board held off on submitting to the state was a Level One study of a $3.7 million renovation project for the Orendorff Building.

“We need more information on that,” Larsen said. “We’re not sure whether that will have to be submitted as major maintenance or capital construction.”

In other items of business, the board discussed a contract for services with the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), also known as Powell Valley Community Education, but postponed a vote on the agreement until the June board meeting.

The contract is “basically the same” as past agreements between BOCES and the college, but does have some minor changes.

“I really like how we’ve constructed this contract to be able to offer community education services,” Hicswa said. “I’m pleased with what the BOCES board is doing in that regard.”

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