A service dog gets a rest as graduates await their...

A service dog gets a rest as graduates await their degrees at Suffolk County Community College's 54th Commencement ceremony held at the Brentwood campus Sunday, May 15, 2016. Credit: Uli Seit

Suffolk County Community College trustees decided to keep the coming year’s tuition hike at $100 even though County Executive Steve Bellone failed to give the college the 2.5 percent increase it sought, providing 1.5 percent instead.

Trustees at their meeting in Riverhead Thursday disclosed they will make up the $418,000 shortfall in the college’s $220.9 million budget by dipping further into the college’s $21.8 million reserve fund, raising one-shot revenue from $6.2 million to $6.6 million for the coming school year.

The decision will put the reserve fund below 7 percent, less than the 10 percent cushion recommended by the Middle States Association, the college’s accrediting agency. It will also force the college to find additional revenue to replace the one-shot next year as well as pay for other rising costs.

College officials decided against a further tuition increase, noting that students have already suffered with 20 percent in tuition hikes over the past four years. Their decision will keep the tuition increase at 2.1 percent, making the cost for a full-time student $4,870 next year. It would have cost students $21 more if the shortfall was made up by an additional tuition hike.

Bellone rejected the college request, saying 1.5 percent more “is as much as the county can afford” and any further increase would not be sustainable. Even at the reduced level, Bellone’s proposal calls for a $42.4 million county contribution to the college for the coming year.

Trustees, citing the county’s ongoing fiscal woes, said they will not lobby the county legislature to override Bellone to get more money. School officials noted that county officials earlier this year provided $2 million in extra financing so the school could move forward with a new $21 million health and wellness center with a pool and gymnasium to complete their eastern campus.

“You’ve got to pick your battles,” said Jim Morgo, budget committee chair. “This is not a hill we want to die on.”

However, college trustees also sent a letter to the county executive, disputing his claim that an executive legislative committee had recommended that the college receive only a 1.5 percent increase.

While the committee’s final report included a five-year budget model that contained various assumptions, including a 1.5 percent increase in the county’s contribution, “the model was not intended to be used as a recommendation.” Their letter also noted other assumptions in the report never materialized, including a $200 tuition increase and $100 state aid increase for each student, which turned out to be only $50.

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