By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Citing an estimated $13 million gap in next year’s county budget, on Thursday county officials considered reducing Sullivan County’s annual contribution to Sullivan County Community College from $4 million to $3.4 million, a 15 percent decrease.
“We have some very difficult decisions to make,” affirmed Legislator Alan Sorensen, who chairs the Government Services Committee where the resolution was discussed. “... We don’t have the ability to sustain that contribution.”
County Manager David Fanslau painted a grim picture, too, noting that “85 percent of our property tax levy is consumed by unfunded state mandates” and state funding is decreasing.
But the college board and administration represented in force at the meeting said times aren’t good for SCCC either.
Its vice president for administrative services, Jeff Shapiro, said the college expects a $1 million expense increase in the coming year with only $115,000 of that non-mandated.
It’s also researching cutting programs and having employees contribute more to their health insurance.
It was pointed out, too, that the state has long not lived up to its mandated contribution of 33.3 percent to the college’s budget instead coming in at 19 percent.
And that very day, Shapiro said he had been informed by a SUNY official that if the county reduces its contribution, the state will reduce its contribution as well by as much as $425,000.
“Quite frankly,” he warned, “we’ll be out of business.”
County Attorney Sam Yasgur, however, offered to research the matter further, as he questioned whether the loss of state aid would occur in such a fashion or at all.
Shapiro and SCCC President Mamie Howard Golladay seemed amenable to that request, so legislators asked Yasgur to get back to them about it.
Shapiro promised the college is not holding anything back from the county but is seeking to maintain or even increase the county’s contribution. He indicated the loss of revenue to the college that the county is contemplating would force SCCC to use up its fund balance (surplus), endangering its accreditation.
“Each dollar invested by the county returns more than $6 to the county,” added SCCC Board Chair Phyllis Coombe, who pointed out that more than 65 percent of the student population and more than 79 percent of the faculty and staff are locals.
“Don’t force us to turn out the lights on our dreams and the county’s hopes,” she pleaded.
Legislators agreed they needed more information and will discuss it further this Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
“This is not a fight. This is not a challenge,” said Legislator Leni Binder. “... I realize what the implication is for the college.”
“We don’t want it to be ‘us vs. them’,” agreed Legislator Ron Hiatt. “[But] we’re stuck. We’re in great economic stress.”
“We’re leaking like a sieve,” pointed out Legislator David Sager. “... And we’ve really left them [the college] unscathed for a long time.”
Legislator Kathy LaBuda asked college administrators to provide a list of projected impacts from the potential loss of $600,000 in county funding, which they agreed to do at the next meeting.