Regents OK operating and capital budgets

Operating budget includes $292 million state appropriation

Posted: Thursday, November 03, 2005

FAIRBANKS - An operating budget that calls for nearly 18 percent more in state funding was approved by the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

Regents on Tuesday also approved spending $250 million in capital projects, including $98 million on current facilities or equipment.

The operating budget was approved at $790 million, with a state appropriation of $292 million, for fiscal year 2007.

The nearly $44 million increase over this year would cover fixed-cost increases to salary contracts, insurance, retirement obligations, health benefits and fuel expenses, said Pat Pitney, UA vice president of planning and budget development.

"It's not a big number," she said. "It's reflective of the university's needs."

The capital budget includes $2 million for the purchase and remodeling of the Gitkov Building in Juneau.

The Gitov Building is where the former Student Activities Center was housed, which has since been incorporated into the new UAS recreation center.

"That freed up a lot of square footage right near campus, so we're going to move the book store out there," said UAS Public Information Officer Kevin Myers. The bookstore is on the bottom level of the Mourant Building at the Auke Bay campus.

Myers said some of the administrators' offices in the Bill Ray Center downtown will also move into the Gitov Building to better serve the campus.

The operating budget includes nearly $11 million for growth of existing programs that lead to careers in health, education, mining and natural gas.

"This is a pivotal point for the university, between looking back to try to play catch-up or to train students for growing career fields," said UA President Mark Hamilton said. "We have to start looking to the future."

Regents also approved a $3.3 million supplemental appropriation request for the current year to cover fuel price increases.

Nearly all of the additional energy costs have been incurred on the Fairbanks campus, which has twice the square footage and 31 more heating days than the university's Anchorage campus.

"That's a request we're seeing from all state agencies and something we're likely to pass on to the Legislature in February," said Cheryl Frasca, state director of office management and budget.

Topping the list of capital requests was $98 million for bringing facilities up to state code, safety features, building repair and equipment.

Hamilton presented the proposal to the board separately to emphasize the importance of catching up on deferred maintenance while the state expects a windfall from high oil prices.

"Keeping up the facilities we have is a top priority, not just for safety, but also for the longevity of the campuses," Regent Carl Marrs said.

Maintenance and renovation on buildings on the university's 16 campuses is a $60 million a year job, for which the state has offered up about $7 million on average in recent years, UA officials said.

"The board sent a clear message to the Legislature that we need to fix what we have before we build anything new," board chairman Brian Rogers said. "But the board also said the university needs to continue to expand if we're going to lead the state in training Alaskans for the jobs of the future."

In a separate capital request, the regents approved $152 million to pay for new construction or acquisition, including $64.5 million for the Biological Sciences Facility in Fairbanks and $55 million for completion of the Integrated Science Facility in Anchorage.

The request also included $2.5 million for the state virology lab, $2 million for the Alaska Cultural Center and Prince William Sound Community College Training Center addition in Valdez.

The Regents also approved funding for a financial position in the business department, approval for an anatomy and physiology professor, and a teacher education position for special education for early childhood in Juneau. The legislature must first approve the budget before the teachers can be hired.

Frasca said the governor would weigh university requests against other state priorities.

"It's not a surprise," she said. "The university gave us early warning as to the size of their budget."

The governor will present his budget to the Legislature on Dec. 15. Hamilton was optimistic.

"I think we'll get it past the governor," he said. "He'll understand the need to move the state forward and stay in the lead on work force development.

"The Legislature will be a tougher nut because they'll be dealing with many requests for funding and they'll be distracted by the gas line."

• Juneau Empire reporter Eric Morrison contributed to this story.

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