Franklin Co. OKs NCCC budget

MALONE – The Franklin County Board of Legislators approved the 2014-15 North Country Community College budget, but not without hesitation.

The budget includes $100,000 more from Franklin and Essex counties. Each county would contribute half that. The Essex County board approved the budget in July. The college hasn’t requested an increase to the budget in five years.

During the Franklin County Board of Legislators meeting Thursday, the resolution to approve the budget passed with one dissenting vote, which came from Legislator Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, who questioned whether the county could shoulder the increase.

“The county is struggling as it is, and $50,000 might be two employees for the county that we might have to let go next year because we don’t have money,” Dabiew said. “I just don’t think we can afford to do this.”

Dabiew wasn’t the only legislator to question the additional funding. Before the vote, Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, wanted to know what the money would go toward.

Maroun said the $125,600 increase for advertising, which brings the college’s advertising budget to $261,800, bothers him. That money is slated to go toward recruiting students in high schools, reaching out to prospective students via social media, maintaining the new website and television commercials.

Maroun also said he is concerned that the college has plans for the Hotel Flanagan in Malone.

“My concern is that we’re losing the idea of a community college,” Maroun said. “I’m going to support this today, but I’ve assurances from the president about those items, but I think we all should be watching this. The Hotel Flanagan money wasn’t designed to put a campus there, it wasn’t designed to put dormitories there and it wasn’t designed to put students there.”

Maroun said the legislators put money toward revitalizing the hotel about 10 years ago, but it wasn’t to help the college.

“We have to watch out for some of the things that are happening in Malone, in Ticonderoga and in Saranac Lake as to what’s going on with this college,” Maroun said. “We may be reaching out to get students from other areas of the state or other areas of the nation, the Northeast or Canada. We may be missing out on getting the students we deserve to do the most for, and that’s right here in Franklin County.”

NCCC President Steve Tyrell was present during the meeting. He assured Maroun that the college board has never discussed putting a dormitory in the hotel, but said putting an academic facility next to the hotel has come up.

Maroun countered that he heard about the hotel plan at a North Country Regional Economic Development Council meeting, where it was listed as a priority project on a grant application.

Tyrell said that was not a grant request put out by the college, and apologized for the confusion.

Legislator Barb Rice, D-Saranac Lake, voted yes, but she cautioned the college president that the money needs to be well spent.

“Dr. Tyrell has had answers for all of our questions, and we’ve questioned him quite a bit,” Rice said. “I feel at this point the students, faculty and staff of the community college deserve our support. I am really hopeful, in fact I expect, that you can demonstrate a significant return on our investment of the $1.2 million that Franklin County is putting into this budget.”

Legislator Tim “Guy” Smith, D-Chateaugay, also voted yes. He called the college one of the area’s greatest assets, but said he’d like to see more effort put into attracting students from Franklin and Essex counties.

Tyrell thanked the board for approving the budget, and then told them that 72 percent of NCCC’s students come from Franklin or Essex counties.

“We’ve never changed our mission and our commitment to the two counties, and we won’t,” Tyrell said. “There is no question about that.”

In June Tyrell told the legislators that the college’s proposed 2014-15 budget includes a projected loss of more than $500,000 in tuition and fees. The college has campuses in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga.

The college’s enrollment is expected to drop by 12 percent, from just over 1,300 students last year to 1,150 in the 2014-15 school year.

Tyrell told the legislators that the $14.3 million budget reflects a $196,300 decrease in spending from last year, but that isn’t enough to make up for the drop in revenue caused by an expected decrease in student enrollment. The school is projected to lose $561,000 in tuition and fees during the next school year, a 9.8 percent decrease.

Tyrell attributed the drop to a decrease in high school graduation numbers throughout the Adirondacks.

To balance lower enrollment, the college is proposing a rise in tuition. In-state students would pay an additional $200 for an annual cost of $4,250. That’s the second tuition increase since the 2011-12 school year.

Tyrell said he expects out-of-state tuition enrollment to be similar to last year’s. The tuition for those students will also increase by $200, bringing it up to $10,300 a year.

Course fees will increase by 5 percent, the first time that’s happened since 2011. Tyrell said the college board’s goal is to keep all of its programs intact.