DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College board members have approved a conservative budget for the 2019-20 year that expects flat enrollment and a small increase in state aid.

Board trustees held a public hearing on the new budget at Monday’s monthly board meeting and heard remarks from SMC President David Mathews and SMC Vice President and Chief Business Officer Susan Coulston.

Mathews and Coulston said the budget was developed over the last several months, with input from staff, faculty and administrators. The process started last fall with a SWOT (strengths weaknesses opportunities threats) analysis and concluded last month after a board retreat in late March.

The new 2019-20 general fund budget is balanced with nearly $23.8 million in both revenue and expenditures. The college’s general fund balance will stay the same at $3.84 million. The 2019-20 budget projection is slightly lower than the 2018-19 budget, but more than the actual 2018-19 numbers.

When combined with three other funds including building and site, the college’s budgets total $28.26 million, which is slightly less than this year’s total, Coulston said.

Coulston said the new budget assumes a flat enrollment of around 1,550 students and a 1 percent increase in state aid, amounting to around $69,000. It also includes a 2 percent salary increase for full-time employees and $80,000 set aside for legal fees associated with collective bargaining.

The budget calls for the continued employment of 60 full-time faculty members. She said SMC has approximately 60 percent more full-time faculty per full-time students than other Michigan community colleges. While the state average is one full-time faculty member for every 42 students, SMC has one faculty member for every 26 students.

As for the building and sites fund, Coulston said the college is setting aside money for residence hall upgrades, information technology equipment and Niles campus enhancements. She said the Lyons building on the Dowagiac campus should receive an upgrade in the next three to five years. It would be last Dowagiac campus to get a recent upgrade.

Mathews noted that the college faces a perennial challenge with the college district’s property tax collection being in the lowest 25 percentile in the state. “Our goal continues to be student success and taxpayer value,” he said.

Mathews said most of the state aid increase could be used up with an expected $50,000 increase in electric costs because of a rate hike. He said that more research has found that a solar project brought to the college earlier this year looks to be too good to be true. A company had proposed putting in a 10-acre field of solar panels at no cost to the college.