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UVSC to dip into bonus fund

Employee morale is a worry in move to balance budget

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OREM — Utah Valley State College plans to tap some $250,000 earmarked for employee bonuses to help cover a $1.7 million budget deficit.

"I'm expecting a dip in morale," said UVSC President Kerry D. Romesburg. "We either do this, or we lay off more people."

Like the nine other schools in Utah's System of Higher Education, UVSC is struggling to balance the finance ledger.

A systemwide money crunch was created by a $202 million shortfall in income-tax revenue. As a result, public schools and other government agencies must whittle budgets.

UVSC already slashed two vocational-training programs to save money. And other programs are on the chopping block.

Yet, it still wasn't enough to meet a 4 percent funding cutback.

In addition to cutting programs and raiding the bonus fund, UVSC leaders are eliminating 10 to 20 jobs and instituting a hiring freeze. Professors, administrators and other staff also won't receive raises or cost-of-living increases, officials say.

A double-digit tuition hike proposal is expected, too. Romesburg predicts tuition rates will eclipse the 12.5 percent increase UVSC students faced this year.

"Are we balancing the budget on the backs of our employees? Yes, in part," Romesburg said. "We're also doing it on the backs of our students."

Ron Hammond, UVSC faculty senate president, said some faculty and staff won't be pleased with the decision to use the bonus cache to cover the college's operating expenses.

But tough times call for tough measures, he said.

"When the economy goes south, you have to tighten belts," he said. "If you spread it around, everyone feels the pain."

College leaders consider the bonus part of an employee's yearly salary.

"It's not like a turkey we hand them," said Doug Warner, a college administrator who oversees budgets and finances. "We hand them a check. It's compensation."

Warner said rules governing how the money is used do not forbid school presidents from augmenting other parts of the budget with money given by lawmakers for employee salaries.

"There's a history that says, yeah, we do it like this," he said. "Is there language (in legislation) that says we can't? No, there isn't."

UVSC's bonus fund is replenished each year when state officials give the school its yearly allocation for salaries.

About 2 percent of UVSC's salary allocation is funneled into the fund before money is doled out in regular paychecks.

To receive the bonus — which is awarded each spring — professors and staff workers must file an application and earn a satisfactory evaluation from a supervisor.

The amount received by professors also depends on marks given to professors during class evaluations, Hammond said.

Romesburg said the school may face more tough decisions — including the possibility of eliminating more jobs — depending on the budget allocation from the 2002 Legislature.

"You have to put on blinders and be cold and callous," Romesburg said. "It's no fun."

E-MAIL: jeffh@desnews.com