Originally created 07/17/04

UGA's tight budget leads to uneven hiring



ATHENS, Ga. - During this year's budget crunch, University of Georgia officials pointed to the addition of hires in three arenas - faculty, security and physical plant - as critical to UGA's livelihood.

Only one of those needs have been met.

In May, UGA officials pledged to fill 70 vacant teaching slots after the state University System Board of Regents approved a 5 percent tuition increase for Georgia's 34 public colleges and universities.

The 70 jobs represent a sizable chunk of the 236 teaching positions left vacant after the past two years of state cuts, administrators said.

But the university's maintenance team is not seeing similar growth. In 2002, a crew of 906 people cared for 7.7 million square feet of space. Today, fewer than 800 people tend to more than 8 million square feet.

"We're just holding a line on where we are as we move into this budget year," said Ralph Johnson, UGA's associate vice president for the physical plant.

"We haven't reached that stage yet," Mr. Johnson said, referring to a potential noticeable difference on the Athens campus. "But what you're seeing now is a pushing aside of lower-priority work."

Although the visible effects of the smaller staff are minimal, Mr. Johnson said, over the long term the maintenance service will deteriorate. But he doesn't blame UGA officials.

"Yes, we asked for additional funding, but I also understand the budget situation at the state and realize that the primary mission of the university is to teach and research," he said. "We have to keep the university running and we have to keep the lights on, but we also have to take our share (of the budget cuts)."

Chuck Horton, UGA's police chief, is in a similar position. He has yet to get the OK from university officials to hire additional officers. The last time he did was last July, when five positions were added, giving the department 66 officers - short of Chief Horton's ideal force of 71 to 75.

But Chief Horton isn't as concerned with hiring new people these days as he is retaining them. The starting salary for UGA officers is about $25,000, $5,000 less than he prefers. The result, as recently as three years ago, was high turnover - about 15 vacancies a month, he said.

"When that happens, adding five to 10 jobs won't help," Chief Horton said.