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NCCC seeks 4 percent tuition increase, armed 'peace officers' on campus

Tuition would rise and security would be strengthened at Niagara County Community College under a tentative budget for the next academic year.

The proposed $48.4 million budget for 2018-19 includes about $250,000 for two armed peace officers and a contract with a local police agency to supply a regular police officer to patrol the Sanborn campus during the academic day, interim President William J. Murabito said Thursday.

The community college's proposal includes a tuition increase of $84 a semester for a full-time student, or a nearly 4 percent increase. The new full-time tuition would be $2,196 a semester.

"That increase will still keep us lower than any other Western New York community college," said William L. Ross, chairman of the board of trustees.

The planned security upgrade is not tied to any particular incident but to a general desire for more safety, Murabito said.

"We just want to secure the campus. We met with the county. They're concerned," Murabito said. "We want to make sure the students, employees and faculty feel safe."

A pair of reported sexual assaults on campus in the summer of 2016 triggered a chain of events that included the forced retirement of then-President James P. Klyczek, a suspect's death in jail and a set of lawsuits against the county and the college.

Murabito said the community college will continue to employ about 20 security officers, but they are unarmed and can't make arrests.

"When they respond to an incident, they have no powers or authority to do anything," Murabito said.

Murabito said more than half of community colleges in the state now employ peace officers, who are armed and have full police powers, but only on campus.

The proposed budget calls for NCCC to arm its director and assistant director of security, both of whom will be peace officers.

William J. Murabito, interim president of Niagara County Community College, in his office on the Sanborn campus on Oct. 19, 2017. (Thomas J. Prohaska/Buffalo News)

In addition, Murabito said NCCC wants to hire a police officer from either the Niagara County Sheriff's Office or the Lewiston Police Department for regular daily assignment on the campus.

"We want someone to be able to respond quickly," Murabito said.

The communty college plans to try the new security format in 2018-19 before making it permanent.

"We'll see where we are at the end of the year," Murabito said.

Ross said the budget proposal seeks from the County Legislature a 2 percent increase in the county's sponsorship contribution, which has been frozen at $8.87 million for the past 11 years. He said the number is open to negotiation.

Ross said the budget uses $2 million from the college surplus, which has been steadily dwindling.

"The fund was built during a period of higher enrollment," Murabito said.

But enrollment has been falling for the past few years, to a current level of about 3,700 full-time equivalent students.

"We're hoping it will be stabilized this year," Murabito said, pointing to a program of 100 new scholarships of $2,000 a year, announced in February.

The college will open its new $25 million Learning Commons this fall.

In February, NCCC unveiled plans for a $30 million science, technology, engineering and math building.

The Board of Trustees is to vote on the budget May 29. NCCC officials are to meet with County Legislature committees on June 11, and the Legislature will hold a public hearing and possible vote on the budget on June 19.

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