Members of both political parties on Tuesday criticized Suffolk County Community College officials for imposing a new mandatory $200-a-year meal plan fee and pressed them to drop the policy or refund money to students who don't use the food service.

Legislators for more than an hour expressed anger that the fee was authorized at the same time college officials were asking the county for more funding to ease this year's $180 tuition hike.

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Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) said the college never informed the county of its plans. "I'm feeling a little misled," he said. "This is exactly the wrong message for the college to be sending out. It's not appropriate at all."

Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the college should provide an exemption for financial hardship for students who cannot afford the meal plan. Currently, the plan only permits waivers for religious, health or dietary reasons.

College officials testified that most students have embraced the meal plan for its increased selection of food, including sushi and vegetarian dishes. They said Aramark, the new food service vendor, would bring in national chains such as Starbucks and Subway on campus.

Christopher Adams, student affairs vice president, said the new service has encouraged students to stay on campus longer, has reduced traffic, and is building school spirit as well as more involvement in campus clubs. "It's been a real game changer," he said.

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Gail Vizzini, vice president for finances, said food sales more than doubled over past years in the first month, with more than 77,800 purchases totaling $416,000 -- 73 percent through the food plan swipe card. She said the mandatory fee was sought by Aramark to justify its $2 million capital investment.