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ENMU leaders discuss state funding

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“There is a lot of money, but there are a lot of needs,” said Dr. Jeff Elwell, chancellor of the Eastern New Mexico University system, about the state funding situation for the 2019-2020 academic and fiscal year. He talked to the ENMU-Roswell Branch Community College Board during its Wednesday afternoon meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Fresh from a New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee meeting Wednesday in Santa Fe, leaders of Eastern New Mexico University and its Roswell campus told community college board members at a meeting in Roswell later in the day that it probably will be a good year for legislative appropriations for higher education, but predicted that it will not be a year of huge funding increases.

ENMU-Roswell has not yet outlined publicly what its capital outlay requests for the 2019 legislative session will be. Senior administrators have until mid-January to make their requests known and are still discussing what projects or items they will seek money for during the 2019-2020 operational and academic year.

“I think we will probably do at least as good as last year, which was a good year for higher education, but I don’t know that we will do that much better,” ENMU Chancellor Jeff Elwell said.

Scott Smart, vice president of business affairs, added that he thinks legislators are expressing caution because they do not want to repeat a situation that occurred after the economic crisis of 2008 in which the state had to ask institutions to return money previously funded.

According to a Dec. 22 Legislative Finance Committee memo, recurring revenues to the state’s general fund from July through October 2018 were $2.1 billion, an increase of $292 million, or 16.6 percent, from the previous year.

After a strong 2017 revenue showing, boosted primarily by a recovering oil and gas industry, higher education saw a reprieve from cutbacks of prior years and actually benefited from salary increases, strong instructional and general operational support, and money for many of their capital outlay requests.

Elwell said that public higher education has asked this year for varied amounts of institutional funding as well as a 5 percent compensation increase for employees and full funding for benefits, but he said it is uncertain how those requests will be greeted. He said the upcoming legislative session holds some uncertainty, with a new governor, new legislators on various committees and continued concern expressed by some state lawmakers over declining enrollment statewide in New Mexico’s higher education institutions, which he said has translated into about a $58 million decrease in revenues over a 10-year period.

In other matters before the board, members heard about how changes in the Local Election Act of 2018 (House Bill 98) will affect them and voted to add a new officer position to their group.

Cindy Fuller, Chaves County Bureau of Elections chief, explained to board members that the new election law requires that non-partisan groups with taxing authority, such as school districts and college boards, hold their elections on Regular Local Election days in November of odd-numbered years instead of holding separate elections typically in February.

“I believe that the process will be simplified,” Fuller told the group, explaining that the Secretary of State and the Chaves County Clerk’s office now will have responsibility for conducting the elections rather the college. She added that the change is intended to boost voter participation.

“The goal of this bill was to consolidate these elections so that we didn’t have these teeny, tiny elections happening all year long where sometimes we would have 14 percent turnout or even less than that,” Fuller said. “I know that the schools and colleges did not have a say in whether they were put into this bill or not, but I think it will be a good thing for our voters. I think they will become more aware, I’m hoping, and get more involved.”

She also explained that board members from Districts 1, 4 and 5 (Mireya Trujillo, Ralph Fresquez and Carleton “Cla” Avery), who previously would have had their positions come up for election in February 2019 will have their terms extended until Dec. 31, 2019. Newly elected or re-elected board members will assume their positions Jan. 1, 2020, and will have four-year terms. Extension of terms will occur until such time that all members have been elected with terms that coincide with the new election cycles.

The four board members at the meeting also voted unanimously to create a vice president role. Currently, the only board officers are a president (Mireya Trujillo) and secretary (Patricia Parsons).

The group did not decide which member will fill the new position, as they first want to define the duties of that role. They said they expected to vote on the person during the board’s next meeting, now scheduled for March 13.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.