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December 06, 2016
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County lawmakers table college cut; would trigger massive state cuts

A $600,000 cut in funding from the county will trigger a massive cut in state funding, with the total reduction amounting to $2.6 million.

That was the message Johanna Duncan-Poitier, vice chancellor for community colleges for the State University of New York (SUNY) system, brought to Sullivan County lawmakers at the government center on May 19. Duncan-Poitier brought a handful of other SUNY officials to try to persuade lawmakers that the proposed cut in county funding to Sullivan County Community College will have devastating consequences.

Dona Bulluck, an associate counsel with SUNY, reinforced the message. She said the language regarding “maintenance of effort” is written into the SUNY funding legislation each year, and if the sponsoring agency, in this case Sullivan County, ever reduces the funding level from the previous year, that reduction triggers a “snowball effect” that results in much greater state reductions.

A week earlier, county attorney Sam Yasgur said that he could find no such language in any statute, although his understanding was that such cuts would be triggered only if student tuition rose to more than 33% of funding for the college, and that is not the case. Legislator Ron Hiatt said that was his understanding as well.

County officials expressed further frustration because when the community college system was set up, 33% of funding was to come from SUNY, 33% from tuition, and 33% from the county. But SUNY is now providing only about 15% to 17% of the funding.
County manager David Fanslau said, “It seems to be somewhat punitive that SUNY and the state would want to punish the college because the county has to reduce its funding, yet the state is only funding 15% to 17%. So SUNY should come up with its share of funding, or allow the county to match the SUNY funding.

Asked if she was disappointed about the amount of money the state kicks in for community colleges, Duncan-Poitier said it would obviously be better to have a higher level of funding but she added, “The county and the state are experiencing financial difficulties, that’s true all over. However there was a 40% restoration of cuts to SUNY this year, and given the cuts to health and education across the state, that’s a pretty significant restoration.”

Duncan-Poitier raised enough concern about the impact of the proposed cuts that lawmakers voted to table the vote on funding until more information can be gathered. In casting her vote to table, lawmaker Leni Binder said that the college is not a luxury but instead a necessity, and she wanted to see how the $600,000 cut would impact the college.

Fanslau said he is arranging a meeting between county lawmakers, senator John Bonacic, assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, officials from the governors office and SUNY officials to discuss the matter.