Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Voters will ultimately decide GCC independence


By Matt Brabb

(Remember to pick up your free copy of the Connection this week at the Rim Country's finer retail establishments.  And thanks for supporting truthful, responsible journalism.  We don't want to become a one-newspaper community ever again.)

The task force looking to transform Gila Community College (GCC) in to an independent accredited college, rather than a provisional one, met last week at the Payson GCC campus. We applaud the efforts of the group, chaired by State Senator Sylvia Allen.

To be sure, the task force will have to overcome significant obstacles if it is eventually to become fully accredited, and no longer need the services currently provided by Eastern Arizona College (EAC). GCC currently pays EAC some $1.2 million per year for things like IT and the registrar.

Whether or not GCC ultimately becomes independent may well depend on its ability to provide the services it now contracts for with EAC, for a cost equal to or less than the $1.2 million they currently pay.

Allen made it clear at the meeting that the task force needed to come up with that number, and soon. She would like to introduce legislation as early as next year that would provide a path for GCC to become autonomous.

That number may be difficult to ascertain, and the reason for that has a lot to do with why GCC is seeking to shed its provisional tag in the first place.

A long-standing issue that members of the GCC governing board have had with EAC is the murky financial reports that the board periodically receives from EAC. They have often, and justifiably so, noted the difficulty they have had setting policy because the numbers coming from EAC have been so hard to interpret.

That reason alone justifies the push for independence that the task force is making.

Of course, it could still turn out that cutting ties with EAC will simply be cost-prohibitive. Gila County residents pay some of the lowest taxes to support their community college in the state. Only one county collects less. The funds the college receives are a fraction of the property tax the county collects every year.

It has been suggested that the portion reserved for the college from property tax revenue may need to as much as triple to cover the cost of going independent. It is important to note however, that this increase would apply only to the fraction that goes to GCC, not to a resident’s overall property tax bill.

In any case, a potential increase would have to go before the voters of Gila County, so ultimately the people may decide whether or not going independent is important enough to justify the cost.

But we are confident that members of the task force will do everything in their power to make a fiscally neutral break from EAC. GCC board member and task force member Tom Loeffler has already made “out of the box” suggestions that could help the college defray costs should independence become a reality.

In any case, it is probably a good thing that the break won’t happen overnight. Estimates range from five to ten years for the length of time it may take for GCC to become fully accredited. Certainly there is no appetite for a property tax increase at this time, if one were necessary.

For once, the snail like pace at which government generally operates may be a blessing in disguise.

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