County Executive Steve Bellone has rejected Suffolk County Community College trustees’ request for a 4 percent increase in the county contribution to their proposed budget, offering a 1.84 percent hike instead.
Bellone said Monday his offer is above the 1.5 percent increase he said was agreed to last year as part of an effort to give the college more certainty over the county’s future funding stream. Bellone said he also has filed a legislative resolution to reject the trustees’ proposed $226.4 million budget, which would cost the county an extra $1.64 million.
College officials dispute that there ever was an agreement over funding levels, and say they will continue to lobby county lawmakers for a higher county contribution to keep the proposed tuition increase of $350 next year from going higher. Without a 4 percent hike in county aid, student tuition would rise $50 more, they say, increasing overall tuition from the current $4,870 to $5,270 a year.
“If [lawmakers] can find the money, I think they would be inclined to help out the students. After all, that’s where the money goes,” said Louis Petrizzo, college counsel and executive vice president. “The board feels a fiduciary duty to advocate for students and will be requesting ” the extra funds.
Bellone said his proposal is the maximum permitted under the state property tax cap and it will put the total county share of college costs at $43.2 million for the coming school year. His proposal is .34 percent more than what the school got from Suffolk in the past school year, but still $950,000 short of trustees’ request for a 4 percent county increase.
The proposed college budget increases spending by $5.3 million, mainly for increased staffing and benefit costs, while college enrollment is projected to decline by 1.2 percent for the coming school year to 18,001 fulltime equivalent students, which will negatively affect tuition and state aid revenues.
Bellone’s proposal comes after budget aides disclosed last month that Suffolk ended 2017 with a $40.6 million deficit and faces a shortfall of $175.6 million for the 2019 budget, under a worst-case scenario.
Legis. Tom Cilmi, leader of the GOP caucus, said he has yet to consult with colleagues, but believes legislators would like to keep the tuition down. “The difference between one and four percent is not a lot of money,” he said. “If the county was managed properly, we would have the money to fully fund the college like we should.”
Democratic Legis. Tom Donnelly (D-Deer Park), education committee chairman and a SCCC graduate, said the college does “remarkable work” with students who cannot afford private or four-year state schools. “I’d like to try and split the difference and get to at least three percent,” he said. “We need to do a better job of keeping the cost affordable to help out young residents move into the work force.”