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ECC'S 2005-06 BUDGET HOLDS LINE ON TUITION

Erie Community College trustees Wednesday approved a 2005-06 budget that doesn't raise tuition and assumes county aid to the college will remain steady next year.

The $80.9 million budget increases spending by 1.6 percent over the current budget but trims 18 vacant positions from ECC's payroll.

Tuition would remain at $2,900 per year for a full-time student, after increasing by $200 each of the last two years. Part-time tuition will remain at $121 per credit hour.

"This budget is a pretty bare-bones budget," William D. Reuter, ECC's chief financial officer, said at an ECC board meeting at the City Campus.

The budget next must win the approval of County Executive Joel A. Giambra and the County Legislature. The college largely has avoided the painful spending cuts applied to many county departments and related agencies such as Erie County Medical Center.

Last month, Giambra suggested cutting the county's $15.4 million contribution to ECC by $5 million -- $3 million for the current budget year and $2 million for 2005-06. He later backed off that suggestion, and he could not be reached late Wednesday to comment on ECC's budget submission.

ECC officials said the county already isn't sufficiently funding the college. The county portion would represent 19.1 percent of ECC's 2005-06 operating budget, far less than the 26.7 percent called for in state educational guidelines.

"We're not going back to the well and requesting anything from the county other than what they've been paying the last few years," trustee Thomas H. Burton said.

Student tuition at ECC accounts for 44.7 percent of the new budget, even though the state normally "caps" tuition revenue at no more than one-third of a community college's operating budget.

ECC will end the spring semester with its highest enrollment, the equivalent of 11,260 full-time students.

Burton and Reuter warned that if the county doesn't maintain its current level of support, the state will impose that tuition cap. In that case, ECC will be forced to slash tuition and could lose $6 million per year in revenue, leaving a large hole.

The college also is asking the county to help pay for any raises included in new employee contracts, which are negotiated by county officials. In the 2005-06 budget, the cost of employee salaries would rise by $1 million and the cost of employee benefits would rise $842,000.

The spending plan assumes state aid will remain at this year's level, $2,350 per full-time-equivalent student.

Every trustee present voted "yes" on the budget, except for Janet L. Vogtli, who said she abstained because she hadn't had enough time to study the document.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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