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ECC warns of ‘bare-bones budget’ without more help from Albany

An upcoming state budget deal appears unlikely to provide Erie Community College much-needed financial relief, the college’s president warned on Wednesday.

“We’re going to find ourselves in a position of having to make some difficult decisions, which include every aspect of the college,” ECC President Jack Quinn Jr. said in a meeting with trustees at ECC’s South Campus in Hamburg. “This is going to take three or four or five different ways to tackle this. We can’t just go to fund balance or to a tuition increase.”

With budget negotiations in Albany in the home stretch, proposals to boost aid to the state’s community colleges remain well below the amount ECC would need to “break even” in 2016-17, compared with 2015-16.

The Assembly proposed increasing aid to community colleges by $100 per full-time equivalent student, while the Senate is pushing for a $50 increase.

In his budget proposal, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included no increase.

“If they meet in the middle, it’s going to be $75, which is not even close to what we need to break even,” Quinn said.

College officials say the break-even point is a $125 increase. Because ECC relies heavily on student tuition to fuel their budgets, declining enrollment over the past six years has strained budgets and led to annual tuition increases at the college.

The state currently provides 30 community colleges in New York with $2,597 in base aid for each full-time-equivalent student enrolled. State University of New York officials lobbied for an increase in the base community college aid of $285 per full-time equivalent student.

Henrik Dullea, chairman of the community colleges committee of the SUNY Board of Trustees, described the legislature’s proposals as “absolutely, totally inadequate in terms of the needs of our community colleges.”

The state was still behind by $400 per student from where it was several years ago, when funding to community colleges was reduced during the recession, added Randall J. Van Wagoner, president of Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica.

Quinn said ECC will study whether to eliminate 30 vacant jobs in its budget for 2016-17. That could save the college as much as $2 million. The college’s pursuit of a new consolidated school of nursing in downtown Buffalo also will likely be put on hold.

“Clearly this is a reality check,” he said. “This will be a bare-bones budget for us.”

It was the second consecutive year Quinn has cautioned trustees and campus staff about the potential for belt-tightening due to budget constraints.

William Reuter, the college’s chief financial officer, said that the key to overcoming the current budget realities will be “vacancy control.”

The college currently has nearly 70 jobs that remain unfilled.