The Suffolk legislature voted unanimously late Tuesday to give Suffolk County Community College a 2.5 percent increase in the county’s contribution for the coming school year — $279,938 more than what County Executive Steve Bellone had proposed.
The college trustees, who put forward a $226.3 million budget, had asked Suffolk for a 4 percent increase in county funding for the school, but Bellone said the school should get only a 1.82 percent, or $780,432, increase, which he said was in line with the state 2 percent property tax cap. However, legislative budget analysts said the level of county contribution had no direct connection to the tax cap.
The 2.5 percent increase would mean a $1,060,370 increase over the county contribution for the current school year and put the overall county share of college operations at $43,475,175 for the 2018-19 school year.
Jason Elan, Bellone’s spokesman, said the county executive was reviewing the legislature’s action and had made no decision on whether to veto. Bellone has 15 days to make a decision.
The college, which had already proposed a record $350 tuition increase for the coming school year, said the lawmakers’ action could help lessen the revenue gap it now has to fill. Although the college had estimated that tuition would rise an additional $50 under the level of county aid proposed by Bellone, the extra money from the county legislature could lower a potential tuition hike by $18 to $32. College tuition for the past school year was $4,870.
The $350 tuition hike will bring in $7 million and college officials have already agreed to impose new fees totaling $1 million.
However, school officials say the budget will now go back to the trustees, who will meet Thursday in Riverhead to decide whether to raise tuition, make further budget cuts or use additional money from the college reserve fund to avoid an extra tuition hike. The college is already using $2.5 million of its $22.5 million reserve fund next year, but it is one-shot revenue that would have to be replaced the following year.
The college budget increases spending $5.3 million, though the school faces $7 million in salary and health insurance hikes and needs to replace $6.7 million taken from the reserve fund last year. The college also is projecting a 1.2 percent drop in enrollment, which reduces tuition and state aid revenue by $2.7 million. College officials say the number of people who take classes continues to grow, but fewer are attending as full-time students.
Benjamin Zwirn, SCCC’s director of legislative affairs, said the college would benefit if the county strikes a deal with its unions on health insurance concessions, although the college cannot budget any savings until a deal is reached.