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Erie County lawmakers said they were ‘blindsided’ by ECC proposal

Erie County lawmakers Thursday complained that they were “blindsided” by a City of Buffalo proposal to include Erie Community College in development plans for a vacant parking lot a couple of blocks north of the City Campus.

City officials announced Tuesday that ECC wants to be part of the process of exploring how to redevelop the city-owned property at 201 Ellicott St. County legislators insisted that the college is in no position to consider any capital projects, however, as it grapples with crumbling infrastructure at its North and South campuses, dwindling student enrollment and a proposed tuition increase.

“My first reaction was, we’re being blindsided again by ECC; I knew nothing about this,” Legislature Chairman Leader John J. Mills, R-Orchard Park, said Thursday in reaction to an article about the city’s plans Wednesday in The Buffalo News.

“How can we even talk about spending additional dollars on anything else but what we have in place now?”

ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr., appearing Thursday before the Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee, assured lawmakers that the college has not committed to anything beyond being included in a request for proposal issued by the city.

“It made sense for us to be put in the suggestion box of what might come through the door from developers,” Quinn said. “We’re committed to nothing – not a penny, not a project, not a square foot, not anything.”

Quinn was joined at the Legislature committee meeting by ECC Board Chairman Stephen Boyd, and the college’s chief administrative and financial officer, William D. Reuter, who presented details on ECC’s proposed 2015-16 budget of $111 million.

Reuter said the budget includes a $300 full-time tuition increase to $4,595 for county residents in 2015-16, which is necessary, he said, to help make up for declining student enrollment.

ECC officials said the college also is exploring ways to attract more students, such as possible expansion of its nursing program. Boyd said the college has aggressively pursued talks with SolarCity on a curriculum to train its workers by offering one- and two-semester certificates in nanotechnology.

“We’re not looking at building another $30 million building at all,” Boyd said, referring to a $30 million Science Technology Engineering and Math Building at the North Campus in Amherst, which is scheduled for completion in 2017.

Meanwhile, Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, said college officials need to focus on shoring up the infrastructure at the North Campus and improving the college’s operating costs.

The Legislature is scheduled to vote on the college’s proposed budget during its regular session at 2 p.m. next Thursday.