The recent controversial decision by Harford Community College officials to raise fees for adult baseball and softball leagues to make the operations of the campus playing fields self-sufficient has become a reflection of budget issues the college has been dealing with in recent years.

"We are creating a plan to make the college financially strong," college President Dennis Golladay said during a conversation with The Aegis newsroom staff Wednesday.

Golladay said college officials are developing measures to ensure money does not have to be drawn from the reserve fund to balance the operating budget, a gradual process that is expected to take three to four years.

Brenda Morrison, vice president for marketing, development and community relations, said Thursday the fund balance is expected to be approximately $10 million when the 2014 fiscal year ends June 30.

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It is projected to be reduced to $7.5 million during FY2015 and to $5 million during FY2016, Morrison said.

She noted members of the Board of Trustees are developing a long-term plan to avoid future withdrawals from reserves.

Enrollment has also leveled out and then dropped during the past two to three years after increasing substantially from 2009 to 2011; college officials have raised tuition three times since 2010, and a $12-increase is proposed as part of the fiscal 2015 budget.

Golladay maintained that HCC's tuition is among the lowest in the state for community colleges.

Operations support auxiliary

As college officials have been taking from HCC's reserve fund to balance the operating budget, they have also been taking funds from the operating budget to cover gaps in auxiliary funds that are used to cover revenue and expenses for college functions and facilities not covered in the operating budget.

Such auxiliary operations include the Harford Sports Complex and other athletic fields, the campus bookstore, food service, dance and theatre companies and the APG Federal Credit Union Arena.

College officials have been shifting significant amounts of money in recent years from other auxiliary funds and the operating budget to support the baseball fields.

"There's just one source of revenue, and it's just rental fees for the various fields," Morrison said of the Harford Sports Complex during an interview with The Aegis in April.

The fields that have been part of the controversy during the winter and spring of 2014 include the main turf field, which the college allocated about $1.6 million to renovate, as well as a baseball field on the edge of campus near the Wawa convenience store, plus softball fields.

The funds have gone to improvements to the turf field, the Sports Complex entrance, minor road improvements, lighting and replacing dugout roofs on the softball field, Morrison said Thursday.

Officials have submitted a request to the county for $350,000 for seating as part of the FY2015 budget, which Morrison said was not approved. No other funds have been earmarked for that project, she said.

Golladay, who became HCC president in 2010, said Thomas Run Park's financial woes stem in part from having several financial officers over a period of years who "weren't paying attention" to the drain the operation was causing on the college's overall finances.

"I was directed by the board of trustees to correct this; we are addressing this in a graduated approach" to get the park back to where it is self-sustaining, he explained.

Golladay denied the athletic complex operating losses are symptomatic of bigger financial problems at the college. According to its audited financial report for the 2012-13, HCC posted an operating loss of $3,848,859, compared a loss of $2,135,368 the previous year. The college's general fund had a $1,914,610 deficit in 2012-13.

Golladay noted that one issue the college faces is maintaining adequate cash flows during a period of heavy construction activity on campus, explaining HCC  has to pay contractors with college funds before the state and county will reimburse them.