Council to set spending priorities

Joe Lord

They know what they have to do. They just don’t know where to start.

The university budget council will meet Wednesday for the first time this year.

Their first meeting is being held two months later than last year, Chief Financial Officer Ann Mead said via e-mail. The budget council was waiting for the state legislature to convene before starting their work.

Few members are expecting an easy ride as they begin scraping together a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The eight budget council members, selected to represent different aspects of campus, all have their own concerns for Western’s immediate future. Among the campus issues council members would diffuse if they got increased funding are enrollment growth, insurance costs and employee pay.

The hard part will be finding the money.

“It’s going to be a challenging meeting, there are a lot of issues we’re going to be looking at,” said Gene Tice, vice president for Student Affairs and campus services and a council member.

Tice said he’d like to see more staff hired to offset enrollment growth. Facilities and campus safety rest prominently in those concerns.

Staff have their own ideas.

Elizabeth Paris, chair of staff council and a budget council member, said she’d like to see pay increases for faculty and staff.

And students would like to see more of them.

Ross Pruitt, the student representative, said reducing the student-to-faculty ratio and sprucing up classroom space are needed for the coming year.

“Some of the buildings are fairly old and could use a touch-up,” Pruitt said.

The council will make a budget recommendation later this semester to President Gary Ransdell. But they start their task without knowing how much state funding Western will get next year.

The state has been running on an emergency spending plan from Gov. Paul Patton since July. The council must wait on state legislators before finalizing a budget for Western.

“The uncertainty of what we’re going to have is definitely a problem, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Paris said. “We can just hope the state hurries up to get a budget in place.”

The budget council may develop “what if” plans while the state legislators in Frankfort resolve their budget issues, Tice said.

Then there are cuts.

The state may reduce its contribution to Western by as much as nine percent. While university officials expect the actual cuts to be less, the budget council must wait on a final figure before forming Western’s budget.

The possible budget cut will be on the minds of the council members.

“Like a stormy cloud,” Tice said. “I mean it’s definitely hanging over our heads.”

The budget council will have to list the priorities for the university if the state does pour budget cuts onto the Hill, Tice said. Deciding who’ll have to do with less money isn’t something council members are looking forward to.

“Nobody has any excess, so it’s hard to go after the operating budget when you’re bare bones,” Paris said.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]