BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine System expects to dip into its reserves for $8.8 million in order to balance its budget for fiscal year 2016 in spite of increased funding from the state, according to system officials.
“This level of deficit spending is not sustainable and is stark evidence that the current operating model is broken,” Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Rebecca Wyke said Monday in a budget update delivered to members of the UMS Finance, Facilities and Technology Committee. “It is incumbent upon the board of trustees and the senior leadership of the seven-university system to address this situation and ensure that Maine’s public universities are available for generations to come.”
The system estimates it will spend $519 million in fiscal year 2016, down about $10 million from the previous year, according to budget documents. Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed biennial budget includes a 1.7 percent, or $3 million, increase in the system’s state appropriation, followed by a 1.9 percent increase the next year.
The budget proposal would give emergency reserve funds to six of the seven campuses. The flagship campus in Orono is the only one not expected to run a deficit. Of the nearly $8.8 million in reserve funds the system could use to close the gap, $2.6 million would go to the University of Maine at Presque Isle, $1.5 million to the University of Maine at Fort Kent, $1.5 million to the University of Southern Maine, $1.3 million to the University of Maine at Machias, $1 million to the system office, about $561,000 to the Farmington campus and $233,000 to the University of Maine at Augusta.
The budget proposal also includes about $2.5 million in debt service funding — included in LePage’s proposed state budget — that UMS says would allow it to leverage another $21 million for infrastructure improvements.
The system is trying to keep up with a large backlog of renovations among its more than 550 buildings across the state, totaling more than 9 million square feet of space. More than 60 percent of those buildings were built more than 25 years ago. The system estimates the total backlog of needed maintenance at $462 million. The estimated replacement value of those facilities is $2.3 billion.
System officials hope to start exploring the sale of some buildings, including its main office in downtown Bangor, Kimball Hall in Machias, and seven small office buildings at the University of Southern Maine, pending board of trustees approval next week.
Wyke said this budget includes about $4.2 million in administrative savings, but officials are holding onto that money for future “strategic investment,” so it isn’t being included in the calculation of the $8.8 million deficit.
Significant challenges exist for the system, which include watching enrollment numbers dip over the past five years, falling steadily from more than 700,000 credit hours to a projected 666,000 in fiscal year 2016. Maine’s population of 15- to 24-year-olds is projected to decline 20 percent from 2010 to 2020.
“Maintaining current enrollments will be challenging and will require our universities to work differently in order to retain and attract more students, including adults and the nearly 50 percent of high school graduates who currently do not enroll in college,” Wyke wrote.
The finance committee will hold a second reading of the budget on May 4 before sending it to the full board of trustees for approval at its May 17-18 meeting.
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