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COUNTY SAYS NCCC MUST CUT REQUEST

Three County Legislature committees told Niagara County Community College to cut its 2001-02 budget Monday but didn't say by how much.

A joint meeting of the Education, Finance and Human Resources committees drew 10 legislators to the Courthouse to consider the college's request for a $650,000 increase in the county's share of the college's budget.

Legislator William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, moved to accept the budget in the Education Committee he heads, but no one seconded the motion.

Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, told NCCC President Antonette J. Cleveland to cut her budget so the county's payment would not increase. No one else had any suggestions for a target for Cleveland to shoot at, and no formal instructions were offered.

Ross said he would be meeting with Cleveland and other college administrators in the next several days to try to come up with something that might pass the Legislature.

A public hearing on the budget is set for the July 17 Legislature meeting, but there won't be a vote that night unless a revised budget has cleared the Education and Finance committees the night before.

Cleveland said a budget must be in place by the end of August or the college legally can't operate.

The $650,000 increase in county share, or 9.4 percent, is part of a nearly $32 million budget that represents a 7.2 percent increase in total college spending.

As for cuts, Cleveland said the college's non-mandated and non-salary expenses have been reduced to 1998 levels and the college has no surplus.

Minority Leader Robert L. Seger, D-North Tonawanda, criticized NCCC's five-year, $2.5 million contract with a computer consulting firm, Collegis, which Cleveland said was necessary to stabilize the campus after a massive computer meltdown in 1999.

"It's a lot of money, but we wouldn't have had to spend it if this institution has been funded property and not told to find the cheap way out," Cleveland said, referring to software packages that didn't work.

"I don't think you can blame the plumbing. You've got to blame the management, too," Seger replied.

After the meeting, Cleveland said the county wouldn't be in a financial bind if it had managed its business better.

Cleveland was referring to six years of freezing or reducing property tax levies. The county's surplus funds are now exhausted as it faces a projected increase of $12.8 million in mandated costs for 2002.

Cleveland said the proposed budget assumed that the State University board of trustees will allow the college to raise full-time tuition $100 to $2,600 a year. That needs special state approval because community college tuition is supposed to be capped at $2,500.

But she said SUNY likely won't allow that if the county doesn't show it's holding up its end by increasing its contribution. "Part of that will be based on the county's willingness to be a partner," Cleveland said.

But Simonson said Cleveland should get nothing and like it. He said the county's informal target of holding next year's property tax increase to 5 percent will force $9 million in spending cuts, including a wipeout of all cultural and community group funding.

Cleveland complained that the college board of trustees needs to approve a revised budget and it's not scheduled to meet again until July 30. She said it might to hard to round up a quorum for a special meeting.

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