State's highest court to hear town-county dispute over tuition

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An appeal over a suit that the Town of North Hempstead brought against Nassau County on its practice of charging towns and cities for the tuition of local students attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan will be heard by the state's highest court.

The New York State Court of Appeals, which took only 64 cases last year, agreed on Sept. 3 to hear the case, Richard Finkel, the former North Hempstead town attorney handling the litigation, said Tuesday.

North Hempstead filed suit in 2011 after the county began diverting sales-tax revenue it owed to the town the previous year as a way to cover subsidies for Nassau County residents who attended FIT.

Under law, counties must pay a portion of the tuition for local students attending community colleges in other counties.

North Hempstead argued that the county exceeded its legal authority, and that FIT did not qualify as a community college because it began offering four-year and master's degrees.

A 2011 Nassau Supreme Court ruling found that the town had to reimburse the county only for the tuition of students enrolled in two-year programs at FIT.

But an appellate court this year reversed that decision, additionally ruling that the county legislature should have passed a resolution before imposing the charges on the town.

The court also said that the county was not allowed to withhold North Hempstead's sales tax, which has totaled $3.2 million from 2010 to 2012, according to the town.

Both the town and the county appealed to the state Court of Appeals, Finkel said.

"We think we have very strong arguments, and we're happy for the opposition to make their arguments," Finkel said. "The county is trying to solve its budget problems on the backs of the towns and the cities."

In a statement, county attorney John Ciampoli claimed success in both courts and added: "We are confident the Court of Appeals will affirm these decisions."

In June, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to require its towns to pay tuition for local students enrolled in bachelor's and master's degree students at FIT.

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