Administrators at Missouri Southern State University say assistance from coronavirus relief funds totaling more than $3 million has helped plug shortfalls in the budget for fiscal year 2021.

The budget-audit committee of the university’s Board of Governors met Wednesday to review the budget’s current status after cuts were predicted over the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget for fiscal year 2021, which began July 1, had projected total revenues of $70.7 million and total expenditures of $74.3 million, creating a deficit of roughly $3.6 million.

Jeff Gibson, director of budget and operations, said administrators are seeing a positive budgetary impact from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding. The CARES Act established a relief fund and appropriated $150 billion for state governments across the country.

He said the university was able to recoup about $2.5 million in expenses through the federal aid. Coming in as cash this year, "that certainly is a favorable thing,” Gibson said.

“Secondly, we have ongoing compensation for expenses that we would normally be incurring that we’re able to get reimbursed for," he said. "Between those two items, that’s a very positive effect, which is a little over $3 million.”

Gibson said they’ve also been able to tackle two significant infrastructure projects using over $200,000 in relief fund money that will enhance distance learning education and communication for faculty and students.

“By and large, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives, so it looks like we’re going to finish the year in much better shape than the $3.6 million (deficit) we originally started in our plan,” Gibson said.

But the good news might be short-lived, administrators say. Because most of the revenue is from the CARES Act, the university will start back at square one come July 1 because the funds have to be used before the end of this year, said Rob Yust, vice president for business affairs.

“We’ll go through the whole process of preparing the budget and seeing where we have to be, but we’re obviously not out of the woods yet,” he said.

In an effort to cut costs, the board had approved, among other proposals such as furloughs, a voluntary retirement incentive program that offered a cash incentive to 52 employees who are eligible to retire under the Missouri State Employees Retirement System between now and Jan. 1.

Yust said out of the 52 employees, 16 accepted the offer with the university paying out about $400,000.

“As we talked about this in the budget preparations, the main reason that we did this is not for FY 21, but for FY 22 and beyond, so in doing this, we estimate savings of about $200,000 annually throughout this process going forward,” he said.

Funding will remain among the top priorities for the university as it moves through the fiscal year.

Among the goals are securing $1.8 million in core appropriations from the state to support growth of STEM and health science programs, as well as using up to $3 million in one-time capital funds to repair and reopen Taylor Performing Arts Center, President Dean Van Galen said.

The performing arts center has largely been closed in recent years because of structural issues.

“Built in 1975 and seating over 2,000 people, (Taylor) is the largest performing arts venue in Southwest Missouri,” Van Galen said. “We have a serious structural issue on large sections of the wall near the stage area that requires temporary braces to minimize the risk of collapse. We have an important asset both to the university and the community that needs to be fixed.”

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Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.