Steep reduction proposed in college funding
The board of Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) turned out to a special meeting of the county legislature to discuss how much money the county will give the college for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
Near the top of the discussion, lawmakers moved a resolution that would have reduced the county’s contribution to SCCC from $4 million to $3.4 million, or $600,000. It’s a steep decrease that is unprecedented in recent county history.
In a reference to the notion that there have sometimes been strained relations between some members of the legislature and the college, lawmaker Leni Binder said of the proposed cut, “This is not a fight, this is not a challenge; the numbers are just horrific.”
County manager David Fanslau laid out some of the numbers. The county still must find a way to fill a $1.3 million gap this year, and for 2012, the county is facing a $13 million shortfall, which is the equivalent of a 25% increase in property taxes.
But the college is facing its own $1 million gap, and facing the same realities as the county: rising health and pension costs, soaring fuel prices and dwindling revenue from the state.
Jeffrey Shapiro, the vice president of administrative services for SCCC, said that, according to the State University of New York, any cut from the county would trigger another cut in state funding. He said when the county’s contribution was reduced by $18,000 three years ago, the result was a cut in state funding of more than $30,000.
He said this year, any cut by the county, whether $10 or $600,000 would result in a further cut of $425,000 by the state because of a policy or law known as “maintenance of effort.”
Sam Yasgur, the county attorney, said the only statute that he could find regarding “maintenance of effort” said that if student tuition rises above 33% of the funding cost of the college, and if the college were to cut its contribution, then the cost of tuition for the students would be lowered to the 33% level. He said because student tuition will be at or slightly below the 33.3% level, there would be no statutory reason of which he was aware that a county cut should trigger a state cut.
Yasgur said he would be glad to look into the matter further and consult with the college’s attorney.
Phyllis Coombe, chair of the SCCC board of trustees, also told the board that if there were no college in the county, and if 80% of students who attend the college were to attend Orange County Community College (OCCC) instead, the cost to the county would be $5.4 million because of charge backs the county would be required to pay OCCC. She also said personnel at SCCC are the lowest paid in the State University of New York, making an average of $20,000 less per year than their counterparts elsewhere.
Coombe said economic development would be impossible without the college, and lack of a college would lead to lower unemployment and higher crime. She concluded, “Don’t force us to turn out the lights on our dreams and our county’s hopes.”
With the county looking at significant cuts in the county workforce next year, heaped on cuts from previous years, and with officials in Albany seriously considering the imposition of the two percent cap on property tax increases, county officials may feel they have no option but to lower the contribution to the college.
Lawmakers plan to address the issue again on May 12.