For the past three years I have been fighting for Erie Community College’s North Campus to be the site of the college’s new academic building. I was pleased, therefore, when a consultant’s recent report agreed with my position. Once completed, this building will go a long way toward alleviating the high additional property taxes homeowners in Grand Island and the Tonawandas are currently saddled with due to the state’s policy regarding so-called “chargebacks.”
Community colleges in New York State have three principle sources of revenue: state aid, student tuition and host county property taxes. When a student from one county attends a community college in another county the college’s county charges back the student’s home county to recover its share of the student’s education. The amount of this chargeback varies from county to county and year to year. But it is normally in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $2,000 for a full-time student. These chargebacks are then added to the property taxes of the residents of the municipalities in which the students live. In recent years, this has created a real problem for residents of the northtowns, given the number of our neighbors who attend Niagara County Community College (NCCC).
Last year chargebacks from NCCC cost residents of the City of Tonawanda $247,473 in additional property taxes. The Town of Tonawanda’s total was $651,688 and Grand Island’s was $355,118. This cannot continue.
There are many reasons northtown residents choose NCCC over ECC. One of the biggest is that ECC’s North Campus lacks sufficient classroom space to accommodate expansion of popular programs. Another reason is that the existing buildings are old and in various states of disrepair. Although a new classroom building at the North Campus will not solve the chargeback problem completely, it will make a substantial dent. Even though the total cost of the building will be about $30 million, the county share will only be $7.5 million, as the state will cover half the cost and the college, itself, is mounting a fundraising effort.
Unfortunately, some are trying to get the county to reject the consultant’s recommendation and construct the new building in Downtown Buffalo. This would do little to remedy our chargeback problem, as too many students from the Northtowns would choose NCCC over the hassle of travelling to Downtown Buffalo. The only solution that benefits us is to enhance the North Campus. If we can reduce a fraction of the annual chargebacks that end up on our property tax bills, the $7.5 million cost to the county would be money well spent, especially for taxpayers in Grand Island and the Tonawandas who bear the lion’s share of the chargeback burden.
If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.