HCC promises to balance budget shortfall; some trustees concerned

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HOUSTON — Houston Community College is facing a $15 million shortfall for the 2018 fiscal year that ends in August, but college officials told the system’s board of trustees Wednesday that a plan is in place to contain costs and to come in within budget.

This comes as HCC considers a tax hike for property owners in its jurisdiction for the next fiscal year, which would mean a $4.50 increase in taxes for a home worth $100,000 and an $11.28 increase for a home worth $250,000. A tuition hike for students, also proposed, was defeated in a board vote.

A tax hike can be approved by the board, but the trustees must hold hearings if HCC proposes a rate that produces higher taxes than what was collected in the previous year.

Administrators blamed the 2018 shortfall on not enough property taxes coming in, as well as flat student enrollment in the fall semester, and a 2.5 percent enrollment decrease in the spring semester.

Officials said they had a plan to reduce expenses so that the 2018 budget would be balanced.

“There are 287 vacancies on the books right now,” Senior Vice President of Finance & Administration Carin Hutchins said during a presentation, suggesting that delaying hiring could, in part, help contain costs.

Other cost containment suggestions included “curtailing non-salary expenses,” and minimizing “non-essential travel.”

She also noted that the college was in a similar position last year and “we reduced our expenses and came in within budget.”

“We’re projecting, at least at this point, that we’re going to end the budget year on target with our adjusted budget,” said Hutchins.

But some trustees said they were concerned there was a shortfall to begin with.

Trustee Dave Wilson, who has often complained about what he has described as wasteful spending at the college, put the blame on years of poor spending decisions.

He pointed to the trustees podium, which he said was unneeded but cost $600,000, and a $1 million telescope at HCC’s Felix Fraga campus in the city’s East End.

“It’s too expensive for the number of astronomy students we have,” Wilson told The Texas Monitor. “And a telescope of that caliber won’t work because of all the lights and the smog we have in Houston.”

Wilson also pointed to a series of land deals that cost the college millions of dollars in years past.

“I think we haven’t contained our spending,” he said. “There’s a lot of money that could have been saved on a lot of things. This administration is like, and I don’t mean to disparage drunken sailors, but they spend money like drunken sailors around here and it needs to stop.”

Trustee Robert Glaser said he believes more shortfalls may be on the horizon.

“We voted down an increase in tuition and we have not had an increase in ten years,” said Glaser, who voted for the tuition increase. “So we’re reducing our revenues, but our expenses are still the same if not more, so we’re going to have trouble balancing the budget. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Glaser also said a tax increase may be coming soon — and he said that too much spending is a problem.

“On the track we’re going, we’re looking at a tax increase,” he said. “I don’t see how we’re going to get there without a lot more changes in the budget and I’m not sure if this board is going in that direction or just going for the tax increase. And even with the tax increase we may fall short. It’s up to our board to hold the administration accountable on a realistic and prudent, lean budget. I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Board Chair Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz said she was confident the college would close any budget gap.

“I’m not really concerned at this juncture, because according to what I heard, the expenses, which of course are a concern, can be reduced,” she said in an interview. “Those things we have in our control. I think that it will balance out. I have confidence it will look different at the end of the game as opposed to the middle of the game.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story identified Robert Glaser as the board’s budget chair. He no longer serves in that position. Trustee John Hansen was recently appointed as the new audit chair.

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