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The University of Maine System will use nearly $19 million in reserves to fill in budget holes

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orono.org
The mall at the University of Maine in Orono.

The University of Maine System is using nearly $19 million in reserves to fill holes in campus budgets next year.

At a meeting on Monday, system officials said that only two campuses had a balanced budget: the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Augusta. To fill in budget deficits at other universities, the system is transferring more than $12 million from individual campus reserves and $6.5 million from system reserves.

Officials said that the system has faced declining enrollment from a smaller number of high school graduates, as well as state appropriations that, until the last few years, had barely increased for nearly a decade.

The budget challenges led the University of Maine at Farmington to lay off nine staff members in its humanities and social sciences divisions earlier this month, and 113 faculty members systemwide accepted early retirement incentives.

UMaine System Board Chair Mark Gardner described the budget challenges as a huge priority moving forward.

"If every meeting we come to, we're talking about negative numbers, drawing from reserves which are quickly going down, it's hard for the trustees to focus on anything else," Gardner said.

Trustee Jim Erwin said the trends highlight the need to focus on strategic planning in the years ahead.

"We just can't operate the way we've been operating," Erwin said. "It isn't even remotely possible if you look at the real impact of the fiscal circumstances that we're in."

Officials said that while they planned to have more than $10 million left over in reserves for future years, recent market conditions have essentially wiped out those funds.