Budget cuts threaten NCRC jobs
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó As many as six people working for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the N.C. Research Campus could lose their jobs in a $1.1 million budget cut.
The jobs in jeopardy at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis are administrative positions, not scientists. But losing support staff will affect research, deputy director Jana Harrison said.
“Our response times are going to be slower,” Harrison said. “We will do everything we can to keep research as our no. 1 priority.”
The institute, which studies why people have different metabolic rates and nutrient requirements, has 26 full-time employees, including support positions such as a community outreach director, an accountant and a grants manager.
UNC has one of the largest presences at the new Research Campus, where eight universities study human health, nutrition and agriculture using biotechnology.
With an annual budget of $7.9 million, the $1.1 million cut would require “fairly draconian measures,” Harrison said.
“When you eliminate any one of those positions, it really is a hardship,” she said. “Next year is going to be difficult, but our overall goal and mission haven’t changed. My expectation is that we will be able to survive this.”
Overall, the N.C. General Assembly actually increased funding to the Research Campus this year by $3 million, up to $22.5 million.
But UNC cut the Nutrition Research Institute’s budget by $1.1 million in response to a large decrease in state funding for university institutes and research centers.
Potential layoffs at the Nutrition Research Institute took many by surprise.
“In my mind, we had increased funding to Kannapolis and when I saw the final budget, I verified that,” N.C. Rep. Fred Steen said. “This surprised me.”
The cuts to the Nutrition Research Institute came in a different line item.
From the beginning of the budget process, legislators had wrong information about the institute and thought its budget was bigger.
“I think there is a 50-50 chance that this was not intended,” Steen said.
The UNC Nutrition Research Institute, directed by Dr. Steven Zeisel, does not even appear on a spreadsheet used to craft the N.C. House version of the budget.
Instead, another nutrition program, also directed by Zeisel, was listed by mistake.
The Clinical Nutrition Research Center, located in Chapel Hill, appears on the spreadsheet with a state budget of $11.8 million.
Legislators cut 20 percent ó or $2.3 million ó from the center’s budget, as they did for many of the nearly 300 institutes and centers on the list.
But in reality, the clinical center receives only federal dollars, Harrison said. The state couldn’t cut a dime.
“I just think that something happened from the top to the bottom, and somebody from UNC-Chapel Hill is going to have to answer that,” Steen said.
House members ended up cutting $2.3 million from the Nutrition Research Institute instead. Ultimately, the General Assembly dropped specific names from the budget and simply directed the UNC System to cut $12 million from institutes and research centers.
Dr. Tony Waldrop, UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development, said he saved the Nutrition Research Institute from a $2.3 million decrease that “would destroy them.”
“They wouldn’t exist,” he said.
Waldrop had to cut a total of $5.7 million from UNC-Chapel Hill institutes. He made deeper cuts elsewhere, redirected money to Kannapolis and limited cuts at the Nutrition Research Institute to $1.1 million, he said.
“The fact that we are willing to take money from Chapel Hill, where we are hurting very bad, and help soften the blow, so to speak, shows our commitment to this project, to the North Carolina Research Campus,” Waldrop said.
He said he doesn’t know how the General Assembly came up with the wrong program name in the spreadsheet.
“If you find out that person, I would love to have their name,” Waldrop said.
Some of the jobs on the chopping block at the Nutrition Research Institute could be saved.
Harrison said she hopes the UNC General Administration will restore part of the Nutrition Research Institute’s budget when it divvies up the $3 million allocated by the General Assembly to the Research Campus.
Seven public universities have programs in Kannapolis. The UNC General Administration is expected to finalize its 2009-10 budget in the coming weeks.
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