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County reins in aid to Suffolk Community College

Students walk across the campus of Suffolk County

Students walk across the campus of Suffolk County Community College in Selden on April, 18, 2014. Credit: Heather Walsh

Aides to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone have told Suffolk County Community College that the county share of college funding will rise by only $1 million next year -- half the amount SCCC trustees have included in their proposed $215.3 million budget.

Bellone aides took the position last week in a budget meeting with college officials. The college spending plan calls for a 5 percent increase in county funding and an $180 annual increase in tuition for full-time students beginning in September.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the county executive is willing to provide a 2.51 percent funding increase -- $1 million -- for the coming school year, which would bring the county contribution to about $44.4 million.

Schneider said Bellone had reaffirmed his commitment to work with the college and county legislature on a long-term funding plan.

"The college understands that we live in a tax cap world," said Schneider. "The county's fiscal challenges are well-known. I don't think anyone is accusing us of exaggerating ... I think there was an understanding this is what we can do."

He said Bellone is leaving it to the college to decide whether to make further spending cuts or propose a larger tuition increase.

College spokesman Drew Biondo said SCCC is aware of the county's position and it will be up to the board of trustees to decide whether to cut the budget, increase tuition further or dip more deeply into the reserve fund. Trustees are scheduled to meet Thursday at the Riverhead campus, where the issue is expected to be discussed.

The proposed $180 tuition hike is a 4.1 percent increase that would raise annual tuition from $4,390 to $4,570 next year. Tuition would pay 50.6 percent of college costs. If trustees decide to make up the $1 million from tuition it would add $50 annually, bringing the student share of college costs to 51.2 percent. Originally, the state, counties and student payments each were to fund a third of community college budgets.

To contain tuition, SCCC already has budgeted a $2.3 million one-shot infusion from the college reserve fund. The move reduces the reserve fund to $18.7 million. That is 8.8 percent of the college budget, below the 10 to 15 percent reserve level the Middle State Commission on Higher Education, the college's accrediting agency, recommends.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the legislature will review the college budget once Bellone submits the spending package next month to see "what options there may be to put more resources toward education."

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