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Harford Community college's budget deficit ends up smaller than expected, officials say

Harford Community College officials say a preliminary review of the college's budget for the recently closed Fiscal Year 2015 indicates there will be a deficit that is significantly lower than what they had earlier anticipated.

The $48.1 million operating budget for FY 2015 had included a $2.4 million "transfer in" from the college's fund balance – unspent funds from prior years – to cover the anticipated gap between expenses and revenues.

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Board Vice-Chair Richard Norling reported during a meeting of the HCC Board of Trustees Tuesday that the actual deficit could be as low as $250,000, once the final audit for the fiscal year is completed.

Norling noted the college's finances for FY2015, which ended June 30, are still being reviewed by an outside auditor, and a complete report will be presented during the board's September meeting.

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"That is a credit to everybody on campus who clearly watched what they were doing, watched the cost of what they were doing and managed to get us in a decent financial situation," Norling said.

Norling dropped another bit of good financial news. He said fiscal 2015 ended with an operating fund balance of about 23 percent, noting the board sets a guideline that the fund balance, or savings account, should be the equivalent of 15 percent of the annual operating budget.

"We still have a little bit of room if some catastrophe befalls us," he said.

College spokesperson Nancy Dysard said Wednesday that HCC should have slightly more than $12 million in unrestricted funds for its fund balance.

Dysard clarified that the college's fund balance has not grown, but "we just didn't draw from it."

"We cut expenses across the college and did not end up spending as much as we thought we would," she wrote in an email.

During the trustees meeting, Board Chair James Valdes praised HCC President Dennis Golladay and his senior staff for their efforts to create a balanced budget for the coming years. The $46.6 million FY 2016 operating budget the board approved in June was the college's first balanced budget in more than a decade, HCC officials said at the time.

Both the current budget and last year's came with increases in both student tuition and fees, and Norling said future balanced budgets depend "very significantly on keeping enrollment up."

"Community colleges go through an odd cycle where enrollment tends to go up when the economy's hurting," he said.

An enrollment report presented to the trustees by Golladay, 20 days ahead of the Aug. 31 start of the fall 2015 semester, projects 3,422 full-time equivalent enrollments.

That full-time equivalent number is 4.5 percent lower than the same time last year, when there were 3,584 FTEs going into the fall 2014 semester.

"I'm hoping, by the time the next 20 days are over, we will be at our enrollment goal," Golladay said.

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The goals for the fall semester include 4,103 full-time equivalent enrollments, a head count of 6,858 students actually taking classes and 61,550 credit hours covered, according to the report.

The current head count is 5,316, and the credit hours stand at 51,328, which are, respectively, 5.1 percent and 4.5 percent lower than the same time last year.

The enrollment for continuing education, non-credit courses was listed for all of fiscal 2014 and all of fiscal 2015, and that report shows a full-time equivalent of 910.24 for 2015, or six fewer than 916.32 for 2014.

Golladay said that, while the enrollment for continuing education has dipped, the revenue increased from FY2014 to FY2015. The report showed an increase of about $270,000 from that source, from $2.72 million in 2014 to $2.99 million for 2015.

Valdes asked Golladay if the change in revenue was the result of "more realistic pricing" for tuition and fees.

"I would say so, yes," Golladay responded.

The college president also said there were reductions in expenses by cutting or reducing classes "that do not have the requisite enrollment."

College officials also expect the tuition and fee revenue to be higher for the for-credit classes this fall, $8.08 million compared to $7.4 million for fall 2014.

The current revenue stream is $6.9 million, or 85.6 percent of budgeted tuition income, according to the report.

Board member James McCauley asked Golladay if he has "some confidence" that the college will meet its enrollment goals.

"I didn't say that," Golladay responded. "I said, 'hope.' I think we will inch closer and closer to [the goals], but I'm never sure. I never want to make a prediction about that because this is really an art, and there's so many variables that come with enrollment."

Valdes praised Golladay's staff for using Screech, a proprietary online budgeting tool that has garnered national attention for HCC.

Norling said college officials will make a presentation on Screech during the Association of Community College Trustees' 2015 Leadership Congress, which will be held in San Diego in October.

"It's a very transparent process," Valdes said. "It's a very useful process for planning and keeping track of things on an almost real-time basis."

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