Mar 282012

By Teri Walker —

Members of the Navajo County Community College District Governing Board took their first look at the Northland Pioneer College 2012-13 preliminary budget last week, approved tuition and course fee increases, and gave the green light on a number of engineering and construction projects that will get underway this year.

Vice President of Administrative Services Blaine Hatch presented the preliminary budget analysis, and asked for the approval of the tuition and fee hikes so the changes could be worked into the 2012-2013 budget assumptions. He also laid the groundwork for future decisions related to salary and property tax increases.

The college will increase tuition $2 per credit hour, rather than $4 or $6 per hour, which had also been evaluated. NPC tuition will now be $62 per credit hour, up from $60 in 2011-12. Tuition has doubled since 2002-03, when it was $30 per credit hour.

Even with the increase, NPC’s tuition is the lowest of Arizona’s 10 community colleges. Pima Community College proposes a $63 per credit hour tuition for next year, and Coconino Community College’s proposed rate is the highest in the state at $88 per credit hour.

Community colleges across Arizona feel the pressure from Governor Jan Brewer to do all they can to increase revenue through tuition and property taxes before asking to draw from the state’s coffers for additional funding.

Even so, Hatch said, “We feel we can defend the position to stay at the low end of tuition increases because of the economic conditions of the communities we serve, but at some point that can raise a red flag.”

The tuition hike is expected to increase college revenues by about $100,000. Hatch said funding from the state is expected to be down about $1.4 million from last year, so steady tuition revenue growth is important to offset budget shortfalls.

The revised tuition schedule also includes the elimination of a discounted rate for out-of-state students taking fewer than seven credit hours.

“I like being the lowest in the state and what that says for what we’re doing for our communities,” said governing board member Dusty Parsons. “I can support it.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the tuition changes, along with course fee increases for various programs and courses that were presented during the February board meeting.

The subject of property tax increases was a contentious one during last year’s budget process, with Parsons strenuously objecting to the college seeking the maximum allowable property tax increase. Parsons didn’t raise objections during the initial property tax discussion Hatch introduced during last week’s meeting. Hatch laid out the argument for asserting the maximum allowable increase in property taxes, a two percent increase over last year’s rates.

Hatch explained the college is under pressure to increase the tax because NPC is one of three community colleges in Arizona that receives “equalization funds” from the state. Equalization funding essentially acknowledges that some rural college districts are at a disadvantage compared to their densely populated sister districts like Maricopa County, where major population centers net disproportionately high amounts of property tax revenues. The state provides “equalization funding” to the more sparsely populated college districts, including Navajo, Graham and Cochise counties, spreading the wealth a bit. The equalization formula has been coming under fire by legislators for some time and next year, Hatch expects funding to be reduced by about $1.4 million. The tie to property tax assessments is simple: the state is reticent to distribute the equalization funds to colleges that are not using every available avenue, such as allowed tax increases and tuition increases, to first help themselves.

A two percent property tax increase would amount in an increase to $1.3515 per $100 assessed valuation of a property, and net about $456,800 in additional revenue for the college. The current property tax rate is $1.2387 per $100 assessed valuation. The board will vote on the property tax rate later in the budget process.

Hatch also presented a three percent salary and wage increase recommendation to the board. Last year, the board voted to restore a two percent salary reduction, and add another two percent to salaries and wages.

A three percent increase would cost about $600,000. Hatch said the pay raise, which would apply to all employees, fits the board-approved budget assumptions for college salaries, including incrementally increasing pay rates and remaining competitive by maintaining a comparative position to the average rates at other Arizona community colleges. The board will vote on the proposed increase during its April 17 meeting.

Following the budget discussion, the board approved a host of facility improvement projects.

NPC will award a contract to Flagstaff Design & Construction to install a canopy at the Aspen Center at the White Mountain Campus in Show Low. The project will cost $339,100.

Edge Construction will be given a $687,000 re-roofing project that will encompass the learning centers in Snowflake, Winslow and Show Low, and the Ponderosa Center in Show Low. The re-roofing project will happen in conjunction with replacement of HVAC systems at the facilities. Originally, the college expected to spend $2.4 million on the project, but due to favorable bid results on construction and installation, along with cost savings realized by pre-purchasing HVAC equipment, the actual project cost will be $1.4 million, a savings of $1 million.

The re-roofing project should be substantially completed by August and work is being scheduled to allow all of the facilities to remain in use while under construction.

The college’s current agreement with engineering firm DLR Group, Inc., is being amended to allow the firm to provide design, engineering, bid preparation and construction management services for the new construction skills center planned for the Holbrook campus. The engineering services are valued at $315,770, plus anticipated reimbursable expenses of about $12,200.

In December 2011, the board gave approval for the college to move forward with plans to construct the Painted Desert Campus skill center. The college sought input from students, faculty, staff and community members in planning the new facility, which is expected to be about 26,600 square feet. The facility will initially house instructional programs for welding and building construction, and will likely eventually include programming associated with potash mining. The skill center price tag is expected to be about $5 million.

DLR Group will also provide design, engineering, bid preparation and construction administration services for a roadway and parking lot expansion project at the White Mountain Campus.

The college is aiming to correct long-standing parking concerns at the campus, and accommodate planned future expansion at the site. DLR Group will be given $82,900 for its services, with estimated additional fees of $19,000 for reimbursable and other expenses.

The new road and parking configuration is expected to more than double the number of parking spaces from less than 200 now to more than 500.

Initial construction of the project is targeted for late spring this year, and is expected to take about four months to complete. The total cost is expected to run $2.4 million.

The board’s final expenditure approval was for the purchase of additional data storage for the college. The college will expend $50,580 plus tax for two XIOTECH data packs for the college’s technology systems.