Budget addressed at forum

Provost Richard "Dick" Richardson focused on University budget issues in remarks at an Oct. 6 Employee Forum meeting.

Lack of state capital funding may cause Carolina to put off an enrollment growth plan endorsed last year by the University, Richardson said.

Richardson also told forum members that Carolina this year will lose 1 percent of its state funds and that a major campus construction project may be put on hold because of the state's Hurricane Floyd relief efforts.

The provost's comments on enrollment growth came with the backdrop of the N.C. General Assembly's failure to pass legislation providing bond funding for capital projects at UNC system schools.

"We're not going to grow if we don't have the resources to do it," Richardson said.

Carolina would have received about $500 million for building/renovation projects over the next five years as part of a $3 billion UNC system bond package approved by the Senate in its version of the 1999-2000 state budget.

But the House rejected that measure, instead proposing that a $1.2 billion bond referendum go before North Carolina voters -- a scenario that included about $174.5 million for the University.

In the end, the General Assembly failed to approve any bond funding plan for capital. And because capital dollars for the UNC system hadn't been included in the already-approved state budget, Carolina was left without capital funding except for $14.49 million for repairs and renovations.

"We perhaps got overly optimistic about it when it went through the Senate so rapidly," Richardson said.

Carolina agreed last year to grow by as many as 6,000 students by 2008, but the University adopted that figure with the caveat that it would increase enrollment only if the state provided adequate funding. (A growth plan approved by the UNC Board of Governors has Carolina adding 3,200 students by 2008.)

General Administration -- with input from system schools -- will take the lead in developing a plan to secure capital funding for the system. Also, a joint House-Senate committee will visit system campuses and assess needs, Richardson said.

He said Carolina will work with that committee but meantime will anxiously wait for word from General Administration on how to move ahead.

"This [a capital strategy for Carolina] is the most critical thing on our agenda right now," Richardson said.

If capital funding isn't in place for the 2001-2002 academic year -- when Carolina's enrollment growth plan is slated to kick in -- that plan will be delayed until 2002-2003 and implemented then only if dollars are available to support it, Richardson said. Carolina is scheduled to add 273 undergraduate and 259 graduate students in 2001-2002.

The various failed bond proposals considered by the General Assembly all aimed to create a new way to finance construction at the state's universities in light of a study -- mandated by the legislature -- that showed the UNC system had $6.9 billion in unmet renovation, repair, replacement and expansion needs.

Richardson said the Senate's $500 million in bonds for construction and renovation at Carolina was in no way "exaggerated or inflated."

"One of the beauties of being the oldest public campus in America is that you can claim that and have a lot of prestige," he said. "The disadvantage is that some of your buildings are falling down on your head."

As for Hurricane Floyd, the state hopes to raise at least $250 million to meet a required match for federal funds to put toward relief efforts in eastern North Carolina. Given that, state officials have asked all state agencies to return 1 percent of their 1999-2000 budgets to Raleigh as well as freeze capital projects not under contract.

For Carolina, the 1 percent reversion amounts to $3.4 million. Because about a quarter of the budget year has passed, 25 percent of that -- $846,000 -- will come from campus reserve funds. The remaining 75 percent -- $2.55 million -- will come from across-the-board cuts in unit budgets.

Richardson said the plan for distributing the cuts was decided by deans, the Chancellor's Cabinet and the University Priorities and Budget Committee.

He said the capital freeze will have a minor effect on two projects: an autism living/learning center in Chatham County and planning for Memorial Hall renovations.

Richardson said the main project that could be affected by the capital freeze is a $9.9 million renovation slated for the House Undergraduate Library.

The project is not under contract, but the University will ask the state for an exemption because "the dislocation of having that building sort of in a never-never land in terms of when we can proceed on it is so great for our students," Richardson said.

House is scheduled to be closed for renovations beginning at the end of this semester.

Given the devastation down east in light of Carolina coming through Floyd relatively unscathed, Richardson said he wasn't "ashamed to ask for" the belt-tightening on campus.

"I think we view this cut as fair, as our part of helping the eastern part of the state," he said. "These people are in desperate straits."

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