GRCC looks to county for bond support

March 3, 2012
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Grand Rapids Community College President Steven Ender recently asked Kent County commissioners to back his school’s bond request, and he clearly felt the timing was right for him to ask for that support.

“We were on an unsustainable path with our budget and our revenues. When I first came here, I didn’t feel I had the right to ask more from taxpayers,” he said.

Ender took over GRCC reigns from Juan Olivarez about four years ago. Since then, the college has cut millions of expenditures, initiated a voluntary early retirement program that resulted in 56 employees leaving the college, including 35 professors, and purchased the former Davenport University campus on Fulton Street through a $15 million capital campaign to accommodate its growing enrollment.

“I believe we now deserve the right to ask taxpayers for their small support,” he said. Richard Ortega, a director on the GRCC Foundation board, said to commissioners, “I want to ask you for your support on the bond issue.”

The school’s request for an estimated $98.6 million over 20 years goes before voters May 8. About $42 million of that will go to major projects, which Ender said are: a full renovation of the main building — the former Davis Tech structure — at a cost of $30 million; a full renovation of the GRCC music building at a cost of $6 million; and another $6 million for a preschool facility.

Ender said renovations to other buildings would be done for $32.4 million, and another $22.7 million would go toward improving the school’s technology, including the purchase of new computers. The school estimates the cost to issue the bonds will run nearly $1.5 million.

“The quicker we go to the bond market, the more we will save taxpayers’ dollars,” he said, referring to having the referendum on the ballot in May rather than in August or November. Waiting longer, he felt, could result in interest rates and inflation going up. Either would increase the college’s cost.

Ender said the actual property-tax levy will range from 0.32 mills to 0.38 mills, with an average levy of 0.35 mills over the bond’s 20-year life. He pointed out that an owner of a home valued at $150,000 would pay $26.25 more per year in property taxes.

Ender said the school set an enrollment record last year with 33,500 students. He said a third of all high school students in the county now choose to attend GRCC.

He said the school’s current bonds provide $6 million in revenue a year, but those bonds will reach maturity in a few years, and GRCC will lose that revenue at a time when the school needs to maintain its building maintenance schedule.

“We have to protect that funding stream,” said Ender of the $6 million. “I know that asking for any tax increase is a difficult thing to do.”

None of the commissioners voiced support for the school’s millage request, as is county policy during meetings.

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