County officials work on college chargeback numbers

By Debra J. Groom

Oswego County and Cayuga County officials are working together to try to come up with a solution to funding inadequacies for Cayuga Community College.

Last year, during 2014 county budget deliberations, county officials found out their chargeback for Cayuga Community College was increasing 85 percent. Oswego County’s budgeted chargeback for all community colleges increased from about $4 million in 2013 to $5.4 million in 2014.

A chargeback is the amount the county pays to each community college attended by Oswego County residents. The colleges use the money for their basic operations.

“The chargeback is an unfunded State mandate charged to taxpayers on their property tax bills,” said Oswego County Administrator Philip Church.

In 2013, Oswego County paid $2.8 million to CCC, about $1 million to Onondaga Community College and $221,000 to Jefferson Community College. The county also pays for one student who attends the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

A large majority of the county’s community college attendees go the CCC, either at its main campus in Auburn or at the campus in Fulton. The large increase from 2013 to 2014 was due to CCC officials overestimating how many students they would have in 2013, which made Oswego County’s chargeback smaller.

So the chargeback increased for 2014 to make up for what should have been paid in 2013.

County Legislator Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, legislature majority leader and chair of the legislature’s finance and personnel committee, said Oswego County’s biggest concern with the chargebacks is the county has no say in the running or operations of CCC, yet it still has to pay a huge sum of money to the college each year.

“It isn’t a level playing field,” Wilbur said. “It is taxation without representation.”

As it stands now, no one from Oswego County is on the CCC board of trustees. “If we have to pay, we should have a say,” Wilbur said. “How do we solve that situation?”

Wilbur said CCC officials, including interim President Gregory T. DeCinque, have listened to the concerns of Oswego County officials. Any change in the makeup of the CCC board would have to be approved by the State University of New York board.

To date, CCC has agreed to set up an Oswego County Advisory Board, Church said. There will be no voting power concerning actions at CCC, but the board members, including Church and Wilbur, will be able to make issues and concerns known to CCC officials.

The other way Oswego County would have more of a say in the issue would be to create a regional community college.

Wilbur said DeCinque has a strong background in creating regional colleges as he led Jamestown Community College through regionalization at his last job.

Regionalization would create a college that serves an entire region and isn’t aligned to just one county, such as Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Finger Lakes Community College, Adirondack Community College, Tompkins-Cortland Community College or Hudson Valley Community College.

Church said regionalization “has been looked at on and off” for a few years, but nothing solid has taken shape.

The chargebacks paid by counties are computed with a complex formula based on the number of students in the county attending a particular community college. That amount goes toward the college’s operating costs.

There also is a portion of the chargeback that goes toward capital charges and is restricted by law for use only on capital debt, construction or capital project repairs.

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