There is an old saying that goes, “What you don’t know, can hurt you.” This is indeed the case for the residents of the Tonawandas when it comes to our residents’ choice of community colleges to attend.
In fact, these choices are costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on our property tax bills. This is due to New York State law, which allows community colleges to charge back the cost of educating students from other counties to their county of origin. These costs are not shared equally by all Erie County taxpayers but are added to the property taxes of the city or town in which the students reside. Given Tonawanda’s proximity to Niagara County and the number of our students opting for Niagara County Community College instead of Erie Community College, we are getting killed.
Here are the sobering statistics for the last school year. For every full-time NCCC student from Erie County, we were charged $2,460. This amounted to a countywide total of $3,397,170. But since the costs were then allocated to individual towns, they were especially painful for the residents of Grand Island and the Tonawandas. Chargebacks from NCCC cost City of Tonawanda residents a total of $382,397 on their property tax bills; Town of Tonawanda (including Kenmore) taxpayers, $848,481; and Grand Island residents, $481,419.
By comparison, the City of Buffalo with its much larger population was charged only $743,722 to be spread among all city taxpayers.
A number of things can be done to soften this blow. Although we are never going to stop all Erie County residents from choosing NCCC over ECC, we can address a number of the primary reasons they feel such a choice is necessary. A major reason is the lack of room in popular programs due to the lack of facilities at ECC’s North Campus. The nursing program is a good example of this, as many of our residents are forced to attend NCCC because there too few slots in ECC’s program.
The college is actively considering the construction of a new academic building on the North Campus. This would alleviate many of the space concerns for nursing and other popular programs. The estimated $30 million building would prospectively require a 50 percent local share. The college believes it can raise $7.5 million in a capital campaign from private donors. This would leave the county taxpayers to pick up the remaining $7.5 million. From my perspective, this might prove to be a bargain for taxpayers in my district. This is because the cost for the new building would be shared by taxpayers from throughout the county. The financial benefits, however, would accrue disproportionately to the communities that get hit the hardest with the chargebacks.
If we could shave a fraction of the costs of the annual chargebacks from NCCC — which have grown 126.5 percent in the last seven years — we might be way ahead. This is far from a done deal. But it is something I am closely following and would love to get your thoughts on. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 873-3438.
(Printed March 9, 2011 in the Ken-Ton Bee Newspaper)