Too close? Masterson concerned about dipping into reserve funds

Allen Community College Board of Trustees discuss cost of capital improvement projects amid continued work on new CTE building and maintenance shop.

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July 11, 2024 - 3:24 PM

Tonya Johnson, vice president of finance and operations at Allen Community College, standing, goes over preliminary budget numbers with Interim President John Masterson, left, and Board of Trustees Chair Rebecca Nilges. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

As design work continues on a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) building and maintenance shop at Allen Community College, interim president John Masterson expressed concern about the cost of capital improvement projects over the next budget year.

The new buildings are expected to cost around $12 million. Add in the cost for other major maintenance projects, and ACC should prepare to spend as much as $17 million from its reserve funds, Tonya Johnson, vice president for finance and operations, told the board of trustees at a meeting Tuesday evening.

That’s a generous estimate, she assured the board. Most likely, the projects won’t cost that much. The board also hopes to find additional funding through grants or donations to offset the cost of the CTE and maintenance buildings. The college has about $20 million in its reserve funds, so the money is available.

But if the worst-case scenario plays out, it will reduce the reserve fund a little too much for Masterson’s liking.

Allen Community College Interim President John Masterson, center, enjoys a lighthearted moment during Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting. Trustee Gena Clounch is at left and chair Rebecca Nilges is at right. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

“It gives me heartburn,” he said. “I’m concerned it’s taking away our ability to stave off a storm. I’m a very conservative dude. I’ve never been that close. Well, maybe in 1992 when I took the job.”

That’s when Masterson became ACC president. Since then, he and his team steadily built the reserve fund until his retirement in 2022. Under President Bruce Moses, the board agreed this past spring to spend up to $12 million for new facilities. Moses left last month and Masterson agreed to fill the role until a new president is found.

Trustee Corey Schinstock repeated a point made at the time the board approved the expenditure: “It’s not doing taxpayers justice by keeping that money in reserves.

“I know we’re financially sound and my thought with the CTE is we need to move forward and be progressive. But I don’t like seeing the reserves that close. There’s a happy medium.”

Schinstock also reiterated a request he made when he made the motion to approve the new buildings: The board needs to find additional sources of funding. That could come in the form of grants, but trustee Jessica Thompson blamed bad timing. Right after the board approved the CTE building, all the applicable grant sources shut down. Thompson said she hopes those grant opportunities reopen in January.

Scott Gales, with Architect One, is overseeing the CTE and maintenance projects. He was on hand Tuesday to talk about the status of the design phase. At a previous meeting, he assured trustees similar projects almost always benefit from donors who receive naming rights.

The college also could seek loans to pay for some of the expenditures, particularly for maintenance. Multiple maintenance issues also have plagued the campus, with several 60-year-old buildings, dormitories that need updated, and equipment that has outlived its lifespan. Maintenance director Ryan Sigg has or needs to replace expensive HVAC equipment and make other major repairs.

JOHNSON gave trustees a preview of the budget for the next year. The college is in good shape and she anticipates about $1 million left in the budget at the end of the year.

Trustees agreed to exceed the revenue neutral rate, which is the amount of taxes that need to be raised based on the previous year’s spending. Taxing entities must notify the public if a budget exceeds the RNR; most do. The county will send residents a letter listing taxing entities that will exceed the rate.

Enrollment

Fall semester enrollment is off to a positive start. Cynthia Jacobson, vice president for student affairs, reported ACC has 1,095 students enrolled so far with 10,216 credit hours. At the same time last year, the college had 1,032 students enrolled and 9,287 credit hours.

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