The Southwestern Community College (SWCC) Board of Trustees heard its annual report on the state legislature during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
The Iowa State Legislature ended its 2017 session in April. Next year’s session begins Jan. 8, 2018.
Briefing the board was Dave Palmer, legislative consultant for the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees (IACCT), and registered lobbyist Jerry Fitzgerald.
Palmer first delivered to the board some good news with regard to budgets.
“Last year,” said Palmer, “if you looked at what the governor slated for cuts to us (community colleges) and how we came out, we did extremely well.
“And I know,” Palmer said, “when you get cut, it’s hard to spin it as good, but if you think of in total the swing in fiscal year ‘18 was $13 million, we saved quite a bit. So we did very well, and we’ll do very well again this year.”
Then delivered to the board was the less-good news, explained by lobbyist and former lawmaker Jerry Fitzgerald.
“We’re going to have a trouble-budget year this year,” said Fitzgerald. “We don’t know how much yet — they won’t know until January. The December REC (state revenue estimate) again, will matter more than we want it to matter. So that’s going to be a big issue.
“We know they’re (the legislature) in trouble,” continued Fitzgerald. “We thought they might have a special session, but they actually got some July money in, in June, and so they didn’t have to have a special session. So they’re going to have to deal with it during the regular session. And what that means is we’re going to have some issues.”
Fitzgerald then fielded questions from the board with regard to a variety of legislative issues. Primarily discussed was state tax credits and property taxes.
According to Fitzgerald, in next year’s legislative session, the legislature will likely address or at least attempt to address both the tax credit issue, and changing how “backfill” property taxes are allocated.
Backfill property taxes are funds that cities, and entities like SWCC that benefit from public funds, might be missing out on after legislative changes to the amount of property taxes local governments can charge.
The state of Iowa continues to survive a series of budget woes, which began before Gov. Kim Reynolds took office in May.
To balance the fiscal year 2017 budget, Reynolds and lawmakers have been forced to approve a series of cuts and transfers totalling about $263 million as of late September.
The board also discussed possible fallout, and how the college might respond to the roughly 215 employees who will lose their jobs in mid-December after candy company Ferrara closes its doors at its Creston plant.
“There’s a lot in the works — but no meetings yet (with Ferrara employees),” said SWCC Vice President of Economic Development Tom Lesan.
“We still haven’t got the survey back from the company, to see what benefits they’ll actually get,” explained Lesan. “They haven’t turned it in yet, because I think they’re being very careful about how they answer ... but it could be huge for the employees. So we’re ready to move as soon as we find out what benefits they’ll get.”
According to Lesan, the good news is that there are plenty of jobs in the area available for the Ferrara employees. Several companies have already contacted SWCC with regard to potentially hiring ex-Ferrara employees.
“So I’m not concerned about the jobs,” said Lesan, “but until we get that survey, it’s really premature to see what will be best for those employees. Because very possibly, they could get two years of education.”
The survey SWCC is waiting on is part of standard state procedure when a firm like Ferrara closes in a community. As part of the survey, employees are asked questions like whether or not they are wanting additional education, or even retraining.
6-cent levy success
SWCC President Dr. Barb Crittenden reported to the board the results of the September 6-cent levy referendum.
“We’re really pleased with it passing at about 78 percent across the entire district,” said Crittenden. “We really appreciate everybody helping to get the word out.
“It’s really the students that benefit directly from it,” said Crittenden. “It’s equipment that they get hands-on to help them be prepared. So thanks for everybody doing their part.”
The SWCC board also reorganized itself during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Joining the board was Kevin Britten of Red Oak. Britten takes the place of retired Board Chairman Ken Rech, who left the board last month after a 37 year tenure.
Elected as chairman was Dr. Tony Cass of Creston.
Cass, who has sat on the SWCC board since February of 2009, has served as the board’s vice president since 2015.