By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Legislators preliminarily agreed to cut Sullivan County Community College’s county funding by $600,000 on Thursday.
The full Legislature will vote on reducing its $4 million contribution to the college to $3.4 million this Thursday.
But an underlying theme of last week’s Government Services Committee meeting seemed to be “we’re caught in the middle.”
That went for legislators, who said the county’s dismal finances have made their annual contribution to SCCC’s budget “unsustainable.”
That went for union leaders like Teamsters Local 445 rep Sandy Shaddock, who lamented that a funding cut to the college would translate to lost jobs and lost union members, while a lack of a funding cut would likely mean cuts in county government that would also cost her members and jobs.
And that certainly went for college leaders, who have long struggled with a state government that only supplies 19 percent of its mandated 33.3 percent contribution to SCCC.
Now they’re facing a 15 percent cut from the county on top of a million dollars in increased mandates from the state.
Public comment at Thursday’s meeting ran the gamut, from nurses’ union rep Martha Wilcox urging legislators to enact “fair” cuts that include the college and Grahamsville resident Ken Walter calling for President Mamie Howard Golladay’s resignation to SCCC student Douglas Smith begging legislators to “invest more” and college math teacher Barbara McCausland warning that local students may be forced to seek higher education outside the county.
“And chances are,” she lamented, “they won’t come back.”
SCCC Board Chair Phyllis Coombe reiterated that the college “is an economic engine” totalling $66 million last year and that any cuts will hurt both the college and the county.
Citing advice by her attorney “not to get involved with a verbal exchange,” Golladay did not speak at Thursday’s meeting.
But in an interview yesterday, she said the $600,000 loss of county funding could easily have double the impact on the college.
“It’s not a good thing,” she said. “... I think it was just wrong, for all the wrong reasons.”
And in what she believes is an unprecedented move, the County Legislature took this action prior to the college’s budget being presented to the county (typically done in June).
On Thursday, however, legislators said they’ve tried to work with the college, with little success.
“Year after year, what we hear is ‘You can’t cut us,’ ‘We’ll have to shut down,’ ‘You’re against our youth,’” Legislator Ron Hiatt recalled.
County and college officials met at Alan Gerry’s CVI Building in Ferndale recently to work on cooperation.
But while legislators expected college leaders to return a few days later for a budget worksession, Golladay said college officials were “confused about the goal and objective of the meeting” and thus did not attend.
She explained that the college believed the meetings to be about better communication.
“It was not a meeting to develop a budget,” Golladay said.
But legislators took that as another sign of disrespect.
“Nobody makes it a priority to work toward anything until the nth hour,” observed Legislator David Sager. “... I see a complete lack of responsibility on the part of the college.”
All five members of the committee Chair Alan Sorensen, Vice Chair Frank Armstrong, Leni Binder, Elwin Wood and Hiatt voted to have the full Legislature weigh in on the issue this Thursday.
“We remain committed to supporting the institution but must recognize the fiscal realities this county is facing,” Sorensen told a crowd of college students, staff and supporters in the audience. “... This is not a decision we make lightly.”
“I think it is a very important part of the community,” added Binder, “... but I do think there’s a reality about where we are.”
“We need to do business differently,” said Legislator Jodi Goodman, who proposed looking into merging SCCC with neighboring colleges, a la what Catskill Regional Medical Center did with Orange Regional.
Golladay told the Democrat yesterday that SCCC remains open to discussing the idea.
“We never said ‘no,’” she explained. “All we said is it would be a very protracted and difficult issue and wouldn’t save any money.”
“This is not a debate of the value of education, the value of the institution,” explained Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis. “... We all should be on a bus going up to visit the group that has let us all down. The state ... has basically left us to hold the bag.”
Golladay yesterday said the college is willing to participate in any effort to get the state to pony up its share.
She also said her vice president and several board members want to meet with County Manager David Fanslau and legislators before any cut is enacted.
“I don’t mind giving them whatever they need,” Golladay said of the Legislature, “but I also need them to understand the college is a separate entity with rules and regulations from every agency ... and I don’t think that’s being considered.”
If the full Legislature does vote to cut the county’s contribution this Thursday, it won’t be final until the county signs off on the college’s budget this summer likely in August.