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College budget acrobatics, getting around an antiquated law

By Fritz Mayer
June 15, 2011

The county gives Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) about $4 million a year to help keep the doors open and the lights on. In this fiscally tight time, county officials, who have adopted cuts in virtually all departments of county government, proposed cutting the college’s funding by $600,000. But because of a law that legislator Alan Sorensen called “antiquated,” any size cut in county funding will result in an automatic drop of $2 million in state funding for SCCC, which most officials agree would be a crippling blow to the institution.

Sorensen and others traveled to Albany on June 6 to meet with the State University of New York (SUNY) to discuss the matter. At a meeting of the Sullivan County General Services Committee on June 9, Sorensen reported that because of the law the county would have to retain its “maintenance of effort” regarding the funding level, but that it does not prevent the county from trying to get back some of that money in the form of “buy backs.”

Sorensen said that buy backs might include such things as having the college hire the county’s department of public works to do some paving work or perform work on other capital projects. Sorensen said the college had been directed to come up with a budget that would include $600,000 worth of “buy backs,” and county officials are looking for other areas where they might be used.

After a meeting between college and county officials, Vincent Begley, a spokesman for the college, said both groups are working together to come up with budget solutions that satisfy both organizations.

At the county meeting, Sorensen echoed the comments previously expressed by county manager David Fanslau, regarding a system in which the state has repeatedly reduced its own maintenance of effort by making incremental cuts, which leaves the state and county playing by different sets of rules.

Sorensen also said that they had been given information about SCCC in relation to other community colleges in the state. He said, “The administrative costs at SCCC as a percentage of its overall budget seem to be higher than other community colleges.” He added, “Other information showed that the college had a higher ratio of full-time staff to part-time staff than other community colleges.”