The anticipated mill levy increase for Barton Community College may be smaller than anticipated — possibly no increase at all — college trustees learned Tuesday.
As recently as May, Dean of Administration Mark Dean warned that a mill levy increase might be needed to compensate for up to $2 million in potential cuts. That included lost revenue from the state and a sharp drop in oil valuations. On top of that, the decision to invest in the college’s indoor swimming pool was also falling to taxpayers and the non-college groups that use the pool. The board discussed raising about $190,000 in taxes just to cover the cost of major repairs and a year of pool operation costs. Valuations had not yet been set, but the ballpark estimate was a tax increase of 0.81 mills just for the pool.
However, Dean had good news for the trustees on Tuesday.
Spending at the college is down because all departments were instructed to cut back, and because the college put a hold on vacant positions. The college had planned to dip into its cash reserves by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, but it didn’t have to.
“We spent less money because we started planning back in January,” Dean said.
Meanwhile, enrollment in BartOnline classes increased by 18 percent in 2014-2015, bringing in more revenue. Oil valuations are down, but real estate valuations are up by $11 million.
On July 28, the administration plans to bring a budget for board approval that calls for a tax of 33.124 mills – exactly the same as last year, Dean said. Because of the lower oil valuations, that would still mean $900,000 less in local taxes next year, but the tentative budget shows it could be done.
Board Chairman Mike Johnson said he wasn’t against that, but reminded board members of the discussion last May. The “ballpark” 0.81 mills needed to for the pool is now closer to two-thirds of a mill, at 0.76 mills.
“We were pretty adamant as a board that the mill levy would pay for the pool,” he said. “As a board, we discussed to do it that way.”
Trustee Don Learned recalled the meeting, which also led to an agreement with Great Bend USD 428. The school district will now pay $10,000 a year toward pool maintenance. A large group of people who support area swim clubs attended that meeting, concerned that the pool might be closed. When a mill levy increase was discussed, “no one was upset,” Learned said.
“No one from the audience was upset,” Johnson said.
Trustee Mike Minton asked if the college could reduce its tax rate by two-thirds of a mill, and then assess the same amount for capital outlay.
Dean said the college could have a capital outlay tax, but it would have to be voted on and renewed every five years.
Next Minton asked if the board’s action in May included a tax increase.
“It was just part of our discussion,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t spelled out.”
Johnson noted that community members are raising money for future swim programs involving the pool. “This could be viewed by some as the college doesn’t need the money now.”
Even with USD 428 and the Golden Belt Swim Club now contributing toward pool maintenance, the college will spend $43,000 a year to maintain the pool, Dean said.
Barton President Carl Heilman indicated the administration’s recommendation will be to keep the mill levy unchanged. The college has essentially held it at the same level since 2008. “We have the opportunity to not increase the mill levy for eight consecutive years,” he said.