The Press recently completed two weeks of phone surveying, talking to more than 300 subscribers about front-page stories in the newspaper. Of all the stories published on Page 1 in that span, one showed an alarming lack of interest. It was the story about North Idaho College proposing a $44 million budget.
Big numbers in government - heck, numbers of any kind - tend to put many readers to sleep. The word "budget," veteran journalists know, is one of the least sexy important words there is. But when 26 subscribers were asked about that NIC budget story and not one of them said they'd read the whole thing - only three so much as scanned it - that told a story all its own. And it's a sad tale.
North Idaho College is an inseparable part of our Kootenai County identity. In terms of students, it's the leading institute of higher education here and a vital workforce preparer. It's also a cultural center and, for sports fans, it's the only intercollegiate game in town. And it relies heavily on your property tax dollars. Isn't that enough to make you want to know how college officials plan to spend $44 million in the year ahead?
Apparently not. So let's try this on.
NIC is seeking an increase of about a half million dollars over last year's budget. In the realm of government spending, that's not a huge deal; 1.3 percent. But in a budget workshop today at 11 at NIC, college officials are almost certain to discuss the following:
NIC enrollment was 4,114 students in 2012. Its enrollment is now 2,946, with a further decline projected this autumn. Why does a 29 percent "loss of business" justify an overall rate increase?
In this period of enrollment contraction, the college is geared toward expansion. NIC officials flirted with the idea of asking the public to help build a multi-million dollar event center a couple years ago. That didn't fly. However, on April 22, NIC's trustees approved a $7.7 million rec center that will be paid for by student fees and staff memberships. And on the immediate horizon is another big capital project for vocational and professional training near Rathdrum, a project that could have a profound, positive impact on our community for many years to come.
If these big-ticket items aren't of interest to you, maybe you should look at something smaller. On your Kootenai County property tax bill you'll see a line item showing how much of your remittance will be dropped into NIC's bank account. If your son, daughter or grandkids attend NIC, there's a good chance you're supporting it and them in more ways than one.
It comes down to this: For our college to be the best it can be, citizens need to be involved, from the ground up. And that starts with the budget. Maybe for you, it starts today.