By DAN SPATZ
The Dalles Chronicle
With one key source of state funding apparently lost and other financing uncertain, Columbia Gorge Community College directors this week deferred their search for new classroom facilities in Hood River.
Meanwhile, the college board is expected to revisit its earlier move to place a capital construction bond measure before Wasco and Hood River county voters this fall. That election may be postponed. The developments came even as Hood River County enrollment soared — and state lawmakers floundered in their attempt to balance Oregon’s budget amid declining income tax revenues.
The latest setback came Tuesday in Salem, as a draft compromise approved by the state senate collapsed, leading Senate President Peter Courtney to predict continued fiscal debate through Labor Day. Oregon’s legislative session is now the longest in state history.
Among the many casualties have been the budgets for Columbia Gorge Community College and its 16 sister institutions across Oregon. As of July 8, the college anticipated total state receipts of $2.2 million, down from $2.6 million originally scheduled a year ago — before the cumulative effects of five special legislative sessions whittled away at that amount. The new revenue figure includes a $562,510 quarterly payment lawmakers deferred from the previous budget year. But lawmakers haven’t made up the net difference, leaving the deferral to carry forward from year to year.
Meanwhile, the state froze the level at which it reimburses community colleges for enrollment costs, tying this to 874 fulltime equivalent enrollment students (FTE) for The Dalles campus of Columbia Gorge Community College — the approximate enrollment there as of three years ago — while reimbursing less than half the college’s actual cost per FTE. Lawmakers allocated a line item to reimburse up to 300 FTE for Hood River, where college enrollment has mushroomed following the annexation vote.
Hood River’s enrollment grew from 164 students in 2001-02 to 219 in 2002-03; meanwhile, enrollment at The Dalles campus dropped slightly, from 850 to 835. (Enrollment is determined according to where a student is taking classes, rather than the student’s hometown.)
A Hood River student taking classes in The Dalles would boost enrollment on The Dalles campus, and vice versa. Total enrollment stood at 1,054 in 2002-03.
House Bill 5009, now awaiting action on the House and Senate floors, would reimburse enrollment costs at an estimated 46 percent of actual costs. That’s less than the college would have received prior to Oregon’s fiscal meltdown, but provide some guidance for college fiscal officers attempting to plan the coming academic year without benefit of a current revenue estimate. Meanwhile, facilities needs will continue to go wanting. Lawmakers attempted to fund capital needs on both campuses — the need for classroom space in Hood River and The Dalles, and the need to fix leaky roofs and other decaying infrastructure on The Dalles campus — with Senate Bill 720 in the current session. This would have dedicated matching money for capital construction projects at Oregon’s 17 community colleges.
But that measure is now considered dead in the water, a prospect that college directors will review at their September meeting in The Dalles. Unless the measure is resurrected, this likely means at least a one-year delay in the bond measure directors had hoped to place before voters this fall. Meanwhile, directors meeting Tuesday at the Hood River Middle School received a bleak staff summary of the state’s fiscal situation, along with a recommendation that the college defer its attempts to find interim classroom space in Hood River beyond that already in use through the Hood River County School District.
“There’s no sense in having a physical building if there’s no money for programs to put into it,” commented one director, Hood River resident Christie Reed, following Tuesday’s staff presentation. Facilities director Dennis Whitehouse emphasized the deferral is a temporary one.
“If the situation is resolved over the next biennium, we can (renew) this activity,” Whitehouse said.