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SCCC/ATS Board Approves Mill Levy Increase

KSCB News - July 23, 2014 6:05 am

*Lower valuations, stagnant state aid prompt mill levy increase at SCCC/ATS*

Seward County Community College/Area Technical School’s
board of trustees voted Monday to approve a 3.99 mill levy increase for the
upcoming year. The funds will enable the college to stay on course in the
aftermath of stagnant state aid and declining property values.

“I’m not real excited about increasing taxes, because I
have to pay them, too,” said SCCC/ATS president Duane Dunn. However, he
added, to keep the college thriving as a significant force for education
and economic development in Seward County and the region, “it’s what we
have to do.”

Dean of Finance and Operations Dennis Sander presented a
detailed report to the board that showed cost-cutting measures taken over
the past few years.

“We haven’t added any debt,” he said. “We’ve worked to
keep spending level at or below revenue, but have had to use fund balances
to offset expenditures where we lost funding.”

The new budget presented Monday night reflects a $200,000
total increase, due to rising utility fees and rates, personnel
compensation and inflation. Total General Fund budget for the college comes
in at $14.44 million.

Like his fellow board members, trustee Dustin Ormiston
voiced concern about how county residents will receive news of a higher
mill levy.

“People may ask, ‘taxes are going up; why are you
spending more?’” he said, when in fact the college is absorbing long-term
effects of cutbacks and a national and state recession that hasn’t
completely ended.

Ormiston, who serves on the Board’s finance committee,
indicated that nearly 2 mills of the proposed budget are needed to offset a
decline in assessed valuation and potential reduction in state aid due to
declining state revenue. Additionally, nearly 1.5 mills would be needed to
offset the deficit from previous years’ projected revenue. That
essentially results in less than 1 mill required to address increasing
operating costs.

Among the challenges:

* Funds promised by the state of Kansas as an incentive
and for assistance in the merger of the area technical school never
materialized to offset the expenses resulting during the merger.

* While costs and enrollment increased, a freeze on state
funding meant the college had to provide more services with the same state
funding levels used in previous years.

* Due to lower than anticipated state revenues, there is
a potential for reduction of state-aid which might cost the college
$150,000 in the upcoming year.

* Tax valuations decreased in Seward County by $13.13
million for the 2014 fiscal year and county valuations slid another $11
million for next year.

“It’s either cut something more, or find an additional
source of revenue,” Ormiston said. “We’ve used about $600,000 in fund
balances over the past three years. I’m not comfortable with more.”

“We have already cut things,” said board member Marvin
Chance Jr., noting that it would be counterproductive to cut more if the
college aims to continue to increase enrollment and provide services to the

Board counsel Kerry McQueen said the board has worked hard to fulfill the
obligation to be good stewards.

“A lot of this has to do with fiscal circumstances in the
state and locally; we’re not out of the recession yet,” McQueen said. “Part
of being a good steward was not increasing the mill levy in the past,
because we understood it was too hard on the local economy.”

Over the past nine years, the college board of trustees
fought hard to prevent mill levy increases.

“We wanted to hold steady,” said Dunn. In fact, for four
subsequent years from 2006 to 2010, the board succeeded in reducing the
mill levy.

In his report to the board, Sander pointed out that state
operating allocations are approximately $600,000 less, than five years ago
(when the college and technical school merged), “yet our primarily
enrollment growth is in career and technical education.”

Sander also said the college has consistently trimmed expenses wherever

“The previous year was really tight,” he said, “which
caused us to defer a number of key expenditures.”

Intermittent expenses, like the recent recoating and
sealing of the college parking lots, were delayed as long as prudence
allowed. Software and telephone upgrades stretched to the maximum length of
time before systems became unsupportable.

Financially, fiscal year 2014 was a successful one for
SCCC/ATS, with year-end unencumbered cash exceeding projections. The
operating budget, compared to the published budget, was under spent.

Looking forward, Sander plans to follow the same frugal

“The administrative team is prepared to work with
departments and divisions in reducing expenditures as necessary,” he said.

The board of trustees voted 5-0 to approve the budget as
presented; board chair Ron Oliver was absent.

In other business, the board:

* Welcomed new coaches Molly Lentini (assistant, women’s
tennis) and Kelli Willingham (assistant, women’s basketball) and new
welding instructor John Massey.

* Voted 5-0 to retain the same slate of officers and
committee assignments as the previous year, specifically Oliver as
chairman, Marvin Chance Jr. as vice-chair, Dunn as board clerk/secretary,
Tina Call as treasurer and Mike Brond as vice-treasurer and Kerry McQueen
as attorney.

* Voted 5-0 to designate the Leader & Times as the
official newspaper of the college; it is the only local paper that meets
statutory requirements regarding publication frequency and deadlines for
legal notices.

* Designated Dennis Sander as Title IX compliance officer.

* Heard a report from Dean of Academic Affairs Cynthia
Rapp. She provided schedules for the semester, final exams and professional
development sessions. The college’s new writing lab, funded through a
partnership grant with Kansas State University, is nearly up and running,
she said.

* Heard a report from dean of career and technical
education Janese Thatcher. Progress on the Liberal Learning Jet will take
off once students return to SCCC/ATS and Liberal High School. “We want the
students to be part of the process,” she said.

* Heard a report from Dean of Student Services Celeste
Donovan, who looks forward to welcoming students back to campus in August.

* Heard a report from Dean Sander, who said the summer
cleaning of campus facilities is 90 percent complete. Renovations in the
technical building are underway. Additionally, a phone outage that occurred
a week ago appears to have been resolved following work by AT&T.

The next board of trustees meeting, including a public
hearing of the budget as presented, will be Aug. 4. The following month’s
meeting was moved to Sept. 4 (a Thursday) because of Labor Day.


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