The Coconino Community College Governing Board is attempting to balance the needs of students and staff while meeting the demands of a tight budget.
The board held a budget retreat Tuesday night to hear about the current state of funds for the community college. No formal decisions were made and the board will possibly take up a discussion of whether the college needs to go to voters for a bond or budget override at its Feb. 21 meeting.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, CCC Executive Vice President Jami Van Ess told the board that staff was expecting 0.3 percent growth in total revenues this year due to 1 percent growth in enrollment and a proposed $3 per credit hour increase in tuition, along with a 2 percent increase in the college’s property tax levy, the maximum allowed by law. She expected the annual aid from the state to be nearly flat again.
At the same time, staff was expecting a 2 percent overall increase in expenses due to inflation and the addition of two full-time faculty. Among the higher costs is a 9.65 percent increase to cover medical benefits for staff and faculty.
Some of the expenses that staff recommended this year included about $282,539 in planned maintenance to buildings at all three campuses, a 2 percent step increase in pay for employees and faculty who qualify for it and that the board budgeted for the next minimum wage increase.
Van Ess also recommended resuming classes Fridays at the Fourth Street Campus to meet increased demand and suggested the board consider either an adjustment in pay for new hires who had been with the college at least half a year or a cost of living increase for faculty and staff.
Van Ess said staff recommended adjusting the fees charged for some classes that require special materials, such as art and science classes and career and technical classes. The adjustment of the fees will decrease the fees charged by the college by about $18,977.
However, staff also recommended increasing the cost of a parking pass for students, staff and faculty. Van Ess recommended increasing the parking fees for students by $9 and fees for employees by $10. The money would be used to remove some of the decorative islands in the parking lot to create 34 more parking spaces. She estimated that it would take about three years to pay off the bill with the increase in parking fees. It’s been about four years since the college last increased the parking fee for students and added a parking fee for employees.
Several board members objected to increasing fees and tutition on students. CCC has the highest tuition in the state to make up for the lowest property tax rate, which it has been unable to convince voters to raise in two recent elections.
“These all seem like small increases, but they add up,” said board member Marie Peoples. She said she was uncomfortable with how some of the fees were adding up, especially the $3 a credit hour increase in tuition that might price some students out of the market. She was also not a fan of the increase in parking fees for students, although she was OK with increasing parking fees for employees.
“It’s not because I don’t think it’s needed,” she said. “But our students are facing the same cost of living increases that staff and faculty are.”
She asked that staff come back with other options that didn’t include increasing tuition by $3 -- maybe a $2 increase -- and look at the possibility of employees shouldering more of the cost of the increase in health care. She contended that the days of expecting no increase in medical premiums were well behind the college and increasing tuition to cover the cost was not sustainable.
Van Ess said the college was part of a larger insurance trust group that included the city, county and Flagstaff Unified School District. Some of the increases in healthcare costs had been approved by the trust board, such as the $3 increase in prescription coverage for generic drugs and the $500 increase in out-of-pocket costs for employees. However, the college board could divide up the 9 percent total increase in premiums as they saw fit. That could include sharing some of the cost or passing the whole increase down to employees, she said.
Board member Nat White also didn’t care for the $3 tuition increase but said he would go along with it this year. He hoped to hold tuition increases to zero over the next few years. He also liked the idea of a 2 percent step pay increase for employees and faculty and a minimum wage increase for those who qualified. He also was in favor of a pay adjustment for new hires, but not in a cost of living increase for all employees and faculty.
Board member Patrick Hurley pointed out that the $3 increase in tuition would effectively pay for the two new full-time faculty positions. As much as he didn’t like raising tuition, he would rather have the two new positions, he said. He also thought the parking fee should be paid by both students and employees. He agreed with White on employee pay increases.
Board Chair Patricia Garcia and board member Lloyd Hammonds agreed with White and Hurley.