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WC Board discusses Wise County campus forecasted budget shortfall

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The Weatherford College Board of Trustees discussed the proposed 2015-16 budget Thursday afternoon including a recurring issue with the WC Wise County campus.

In  2008, Wise County voters approved a Branch Campus Maintenance Tax  (BCMT) to build, maintain and support programs and services at a new WC campus between Bridgeport and Decatur. Voters approved a BCMT of up to 5  cents per $100 valuation. Since construction didn’t start for almost two years after the voters approved the tax, the Weatherford College Wise County reserve account grew substantially.

After funding WCWC at 5 cents for the first year, the Wise County Commissioners Court opted to decrease the tax rate in 2010, bringing in  much lower revenues than originally expected to fund the campus. The court lowered the rate again in 2012 to 4.6148 cents, where it has  remained for the past three years. Unfortunately, the higher than expected bond interest rate, an unexpected downturn in the economy and a drop in Wise County property values have resulted in drastically different budget margins.    

Those lower tax revenues combined with lower than expected WCWC enrollments and higher than estimated bond interest rates have contributed to a multiple-year deficit for the WCWC campus, forcing the college to pull a larger amount from Wise County reserves than originally projected.

This week, new Wise County Judge J.D. Clark notified the college he will propose to reject WC’s proposed WCWC budget and to keep the tax rate flat again in 2015-16, despite repeated requests from the college to return to the approved 5 cent tax rate. The current rate generates approximately $286,000 less per year than the approved 5 cent rate, contributing to the growing deficit.

“Wise County voters approved up to a 5 cent tax rate to fund this campus,” said WC President Dr. Kevin Eaton. “If the commissioners vote not to go to 5 cents, we have to pull from reserves, and that’s not sustainable over time. If we stay on this road, the available reserves will be gone in about five years. It’s a dire situation that could easily be fixed.”

The college, in an effort to reduce the budget shortfall, has cut more than $328,000 from the 2015-16 WCWC budget. In response, Judge Clark is proposing to leave the tax rate unchanged, which will result in an additional loss of $23,297 in revenue for the campus.

“If the county would go back to 5 cents, it would cost the average Wise County taxpayer approximately 50 additional cents per month,” Eaton  said. “Considering the fact that the voters have already approved this  rate, I think the citizens would agree that higher education is worth an additional 50 cents per month.”

One much-debated issue has been indirect costs charged to the WCWC budget. Indirect costs are incurred to cover the time and effort expended by departments at WC’s main campus to run the programs at WCWC, including those of the President’s Office, Business Office, Financial Aid, Library, Testing Center and Student Services, just to name a few.

“Our method of calculating indirect costs aligns with generally accepted accounting principles,” Eaton said. “We have surveyed every other community college district in Texas that has a similar branch campus, and it is clear that Wise County is being treated fairly and that our methodology is appropriate.”