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Lawmakers back 3% hike in Suffolk funding for SCCC

The Suffolk County Legislature has approved a 3%

The Suffolk County Legislature has approved a 3% increase in county funding for Suffolk County Community College for the 2021-22 school year. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Suffolk lawmakers have approved a 3% increase in county funding for Suffolk County Community College for the 2021-2022 school year, rejecting County Executive Steve Bellone’s recommendation of a 1.5% hike.

The Suffolk Legislature voted 17-1 to provide the college with $46.12 million next year, an increase of $1.34 million, according to the legislature's Budget Review Office.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) voted no.

Bellone had recommended an increase of $671,691.

SCCC’s $212.2-million budget proposal would increase expenditures by $13 million over estimated spending for 2020-21.

The budget plan would freeze tuition for full-time students at $5,470 for the second year in a row, even with declining enrollment and higher expected costs from a return to on-campus classes.

"The increased financial resources are an investment in the continued success of our students, allowing the college’s Board of Trustees to freeze tuition for the second consecutive year and pay for our labor contracts," interim college president Louis Petrizzo said in a statement after the legislature’s vote.

Bellone had recommended a 1.5% increase in the county contribution based on a 2017 report that recommended the county raise its contribution by that percentage annually for five years.

The report by a committee made up of Bellone administration officials, county legislators and SCCC officials, said a larger county contribution would be "unsustainable."

Bellone spokesman Derek Poppe said Wednesday the administration was, "in the process of reviewing" the college budget as approved by the legislature.

Legislative Presiding Officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) said county lawmakers want the college to have enough resources to "continue to do the great work they do for students," especially as new college president and Setauket native Edward Bonahue is slated to start the job Monday.

Calarco noted that SCCC requested no increase in county funding last year, when Suffolk budget officials predicted the county would face an $800 million deficit over two years.

"What it really came down to is that the community college last year, when we were in the midst of the pandemic and really didn't know what was going to be going on, agreed to take zero increase … and it still froze tuition for the students and committed to freezing tuition for the students this year," Calarco said.

The county can afford a higher contribution this year because it is in a "much stronger position than we were" in 2020, Calarco said.

Budget officials have projected the county could have a surplus of at least $490 million by the end of 2022 because of an influx of federal pandemic aid and higher than expected sales tax revenues.

Suffolk County funds 22% of the college budget each year, and the state, 23%. Most of the remainder comes from tuition, fees and grants, according to the legislative budget office.

College officials said they requested more county funding because they expect to lose revenue from an additional 5.4% drop in full-time enrollment.

Full-time enrollment has declined by about 30% since 2010 as more students have chosen to attend school part-time or to attend four-year colleges, officials said.

SCCC officials also project higher costs because of contractual staff raises and an increase in the number of in-person classes, which likely will require more staff.

Correction: The Suffolk County Legislature voted 17-1 to approve a 3% increase in county funding for Suffolk County Community College for 2021-22. A previous version of this story misstated the vote margin.

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