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December 18, 2007

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Considering the tough economic conditions facing the state, two local officials were pleased with the proposed state budget Gov. Tim Kaine announced Monday.

Kaine's recommendation to provide about $485,000 in additional funding in both 2009 and 2010 delighted officials at the New College Institute in Martinsville.
"I'm very pleased with the governor's recommendation," said NCI Executive Director Barry Dorsey.

Kaine's budget proposes a general fund budget of $1,734,809 for each year, compared with a 2008 general fund budget of $1,250,000.

Dorsey said agencies rarely, if ever, get the full amount they request, and Kaine recommended funding about 75 percent of the NCI board's request.

"That is an excellent recommendation on the part of the governor, and I think it shows his continued commitment" to NCI, Dorsey said.

NCI is a state-funded institution that provides local access to third- and fourth-year courses needed for certain bachelor's degrees offered by colleges and universities across Virginia, as well as master's degree programs. It began educating students in September 2006.

The institute has received $1.25 million from the state during each of the past two years, minus a $37,500 budget cut Kaine ordered this year due to state revenues not meeting expectations. The budget Kaine announced Monday would repeat that cut each year in both 2009 and 2010.

Plans now are to "work very hard to hold" onto the increase Kaine requested while lobbying for a few more dollars, Dorsey said.

The additional state funding is earmarked to fund one new position - an associate director for academic programs - and add more degree programs. The associate director would oversee NCI's economic development programs and be the equivalent of a vice president, Dorsey said.

Kaine's recommended increase also would pave the way to create two full-time posts from the now part-time positions of recruiter and administrative assistant, Dorsey said.

Several new degree programs are at the top of NCI's list of priorities, Dorsey said, but he does not yet know which would be added.

NCI already committed to exploring an information and technology degree program with Radford University, and Dorsey said partnering with James Madison University to add an adult degree program, and possibly a master's degree in counseling, also is on a list of priorities.

Funds from the Harvest Foundation also are critical to the success of NCI, Dorsey said. So far, the foundation has matched state funding provided to the institute.

Tim Gette, director of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, said the museum "came out OK" in a "tough budget time."

The governor recommended an additional $324,240 in state funding for both 2009 and 2010, which would bring the museum's general fund budget to $3,291,062 each year. That compares with 2008's general fund budget of $2,966,822, budget documents show.

A portion of the increase, $84,971 each year in 2009 and 2010, restores funding that should have been included in the museum's base budget in the 2006-08 biennium, according to budget documents. The remainder is earmarked to adjust costs of salary and health insurance premium increases and changes in retirement and disability contribution rates, the documents show.

Gette attributed the museum's success in attracting tourists to the area as "part of the reason" for Kaine's recommendation of additional funding. Since it moved to its new facility on Starling Avenue in March, the museum has seen its attendance figures increase and has attracted visitors from 33 states and eight foreign countries, officials have said.

Citing a recent Boy Scouts sleepover that attracted youngsters from several areas of Virginia, Gette said the museum has worked hard to promote tourism.
That the museum did not lose any funding in the proposed budget speaks to its commitment to draw tourists to the area, Gette said, and he also expressed appreciation for Kaine's support.

For the Virginia Community College System, Kaine's budget shows general fund budgets of $425,932,024 in fiscal 2009 and $425,885,774 in fiscal 2010. It also has nongeneral fund budgets - for projects that colleges will have to raise money on their own for - of $609,421,938 for fiscal 2009 and $654,471,242 for fiscal 2010.

When reached Monday afternoon, Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) President Max Wingett said he had not yet been able to study the budget in-depth, and he declined comment.

He said he plans to talk with a state official about the budget today.

The system-wide budget includes $1.8 million in general funds in both 2009 and 2010 for career coaches, as well as a middle college program that helps young people who dropped out of high school earn GEDs and take college courses.
The nearest middle college to Martinsville-Henry County is at Danville Community College, and Wingett said, "we need to start one" at PHCC.

If lawmakers approve the $1.8 million, he said, PHCC "certainly would be applying for funds to start" a middle college.

The budget also reflects $259,000 in nongeneral funds during the biennium for the construction of a storm water detention facility at PHCC. Wingett said the facility will be used to collect water runoff from future construction projects at the college.

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