VC discusses budget scenarios, tax rates
June 9, 2011 at 1:09 a.m.
Victoria County residents with a home valued at $100,000 could see about a $4 increase in their Victoria College property taxes.
That additional money is expected to help make up for declining state funding for Victoria College.
While both public schools and higher education wait to get the final word from the Texas Legislature on budget cuts, Victoria College trustees considered on Thursday four budget scenarios that were tweaked with one factor: the tax rate.
The community college has the authority to levy a property tax based on this year's property appraisals. The proposed budget outlines could increase that tax anywhere from $4 to $13 for a $100,000 home.
College president Tom Butler reiterated that VC has always been mindful of and conservative with the tax it levies on citizens, and it plans to continue with that attitude.
The college is preparing for state cuts to range from $1.8 million to $2.1 million in its $28 million budget. Some of that comes from cuts in appropriations, but much more comes from the state cutting its contribution to employee benefits like insurance and retirement.
Colleges are mostly funded by state funds, local taxes and tuition.
By paying increased tuition, VC students have historically carried the burden of the state allocating fewer funds, Butler said.
"Especially in recent years, we've looked more and more to our students to make up for the change in state funds," Butler said.
The board approved in March a hike of $9 per semester hour for in-district tuition for the fall semester. Tuition at the college has more than doubled over the last decade.
By comparison, over the decade, the college has increased its tax levy just more than a penny.
Butler said there is no question that this year's tax rate will have to increase to cover continuously dwindling state funding.
"We don't want to ever lose our quality," Butler said. "We draw on every resource we can to make this a great institution, but we don't want to take steps backward."
The tuition rate is expected to generate about $800,000, while the tax rate is anticipated to generate $229,000.
Butler said he sees no reason why enrollment numbers at the college wouldn't continue to increase as they have in previous years, but the college is planning conservatively with current numbers.
With increased enrollment comes both increased revenue and expenditures to adequately serve those students. Also increasing this year's expenditures are maintenance projects deferred from past years and investment in programs that are in direct response to community needs, such as more interest in the truck driving program after the discovery of Eagle Ford Shale in the area.
VC has shed cost from its by-far most expensive expenditure, salaries. The college decided not to fill some vacant positions and outsourced some instruction to part-time professors.
An increase in pay for those part-time professors is part of two budget scenarios the board pored over at the budget workshop.
The lowest tax increase would just cover state cuts. The other three more expensive versions factor in a 3-percent salary raise and a $100 and $200 adjunct professor raise.
Butler emphasized the importance of offering competitive wages to attract the best employees to the college.
The University of Houston-Victoria already pays about $200 more per course than VC.
The college did not offer a salary increase last year, and the college's pay has not been in line with cost of living increases, Butler said.
The raise "would go a long way toward maintaining a high morale, and it also mitigates a problem we would face next year of trying to make up more ground," Butler said.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
The board won't make any decisions until after the Legislature approves a budget, and even then, the budget process will most likely be a summer-long ordeal.
For example, on the table at Thursday's meeting was the amount of money that would go into a contingency fund that the college worked into the budget. The reserve fund would act as a buffer if the state ends up asking the college for more money or if enrollment is lower than anticipated.
Right now, the fund is projected at $100,000, but that number - and all numbers - are subject to change as the board waits for legislative action.
One thing's certain, though. The state has embarked on a trend when it comes to funding education, Butler said.
"We must assume that (funding) will continue to decline, and I think if we did anything less than to assume that, we would be taking too big a risk."