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Tight budget poses challenge

by Karen A. Grava - July 24, 2006

With extremely challenging budgets for both the Storrs-based programs and the Health Center this year, the University's primary goal is fiscal stability, according to Lorraine Aronson, vice president and chief financial officer.

This needs to be achieved at the same time the University directs funding to program priorities such as new faculty for Storrs and support of the Signature Programs at the Health Center; responds to increased energy costs; and strengthens the management and oversight of the construction program.

The total University budget for fiscal year '07 is $1.5 billion. That comprises $858 million for the Storrs-based programs, including $217.7 million - about 35 percent - in state support; and $654.7 million for the Health Center, including $76.9 million - less than 16 percent - in state support.

The budget for the Storrs-based programs projects a $1.4 million deficit by the end of the year, resulting from surging energy costs in the residence halls.

Fees for students were established two years ago before energy costs had climbed, said Aronson.

She said every effort to achieve savings will be made, so the year ends in balance.

The focus of the budget, however, is quality, Aronson said: "Starting last year, our focus began to shift from needing to allocate resources to support increasing enrollment, to taking the opportunity to target resources to support increasing quality.

"Our academic plan will drive a budget that invests in high quality programs with the greatest potential to achieve three interrelated objectives," she added: "improving undergraduate instruction, increasing research productivity, and enhancing the University's reputation as a center for scholarly endeavor."

The budget includes $3.65 million to support 20 new faculty and an increase in undergraduate credit hours, which jumped 28 percent since fall 2000 to 544,952 credit units per year. These positions supplement 51 that were added last year.

The Storrs-based budget also includes:

  • $12.7 million for additional financial aid. During the 2006-07 year, $243 million in financial aid will be awarded to students. About 78 percent of UConn students receive some form of assistance.
  • $2 million for library acquisitions. This is the second year of a multi-year commitment to move library acquisitions expenses from capital funds to operating dollars.
  • $540,000 to hire two building inspectors and two fire code inspectors, and one supervisor for the new University Office of Fire Marshal and Building Inspector. The office was established last year in response to code compliance issues in three newly constructed residence hall complexes.
  • $865,000 to add 11.5 full time positions to the Architectural and Engineering Services staff, to address understaffing and reduce dependence on outside contracts.
  • $500,000 to establish an Office of Construction Assurance, which is part of the UConn 2000 oversight legislation enacted by the state General Assembly and endorsed by the Board of Trustees.
  • $550,000 for improvements to the water system.
  • $80,000 for additional blue safety phones.
  • $2.4 million to cover higher wages for outside cleaning staff, as mandated by the Standard Wages Act.
  • $1.75 million to cover additional UConn 2000 audit activities, new positions for audit and compliance, and $100,000 for audit work and activities required by the Corporate Integrity Agreement.

Health Center budget

Aronson says the Health Center budget for fiscal year '07 is tight. The state's allocation for the Health Center of $76.9 million for fiscal year '07 is $225,000 below current services, and the amount of research grants received is projected to remain static because of flattening federal support for the National Institutes of Health, Aronson said.

Although there were $65 million in operational efficiencies from 1999 through 2006, the Health Center ended the '06 budget year with a projected $1.3 million deficit. That figure may grow, as final activities to close out the fiscal year are completed.

"The Health Center faces a dual financial challenge this year: declining clinical volume and decreases in federal research awards and revenues," Aronson said.

"Clinical volumes have been affected by unusually high faculty turnover, and a coincidental increase in medical leaves for physicians."

State support for the Health Center has gone from 22.5 percent of the budget in 1999 to less than 16 percent last year, Aronson said.

In order to boost clinical revenue, which is an important source of support for the academic and research programs as well, the budget plans for new investments of more than $3 million in the Signature Programs.

This will be supported, at least in part, with reallocations achieved through cost reductions in other areas of the budget. Support of the Signature Programs includes more than $13.2 million since 2000.

Reductions at the Health Center include $6 million in workforce reductions; $375,000 in deferred managerial and academic merit raises; and $880,000 in savings achieved by suspending the research incentive program for the year.

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