The amount of funding Genesee County will contribute to the local community college is expected to remain the same as last year, for now. The college is planning a $40.5 million budget for 2016/17, up 1.53 percent, and sought a $50,000 increase in the county's share -- a total of $2,586,374.
Last month, the legislature's Public Service Committee tabled a resolution seeking the increase because of concern that there was a lack of communication or consultation with legislators about how much the county could afford prior to the request.
On Wednesday afternoon, Genesee Community College President James Sunser assured the Ways and Means Committee that henceforth dialog will begin much earlier so that an update can be forthcoming as early as March, well before any funding requests are made.
The Ways and Means Committee voted to recommend approval of the funding request as previously submitted, with no increase in the county's share. (The county share, mandated by state law, can't be reduced below the prior year's share.)
They also set a public hearing on that at the Legislature's next regular meeting, the evening of June 8.
Sunser said he and Legislator Marianne Clattenburg spoke and they have an idea to help get information to county representatives earlier, starting next year. They would like to set up a meeting to talk preliminarily about budget matters, to ask what the county might be able to do to support the college.
That way, even though hard figures would be absent, there would be a working blueprint to go forward with, two months before May when things are being finalized.
He said attendees should include himself, the college's CFO, chair of the board of trustees, chair of the college trustees' Finance Committee, and the chair of the Legislature, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, legislature-college liaison Clattenburg, and the County Manager.
"Obviously, that would predate having solid information from the state," Sunser said. "But we would look at multiple scenarios and have different ideas and make adjustments -- kind of the same way we are now -- but a little earlier on. Hopefully, that helps. That way we get some county input and that will be before we go to the board of trustees of the college for approval, and hopefully, we could have a more solid sense of where the county could be (in terms of its funding ability).
"I'm open to doing whatever I can do as frequently as needed to keep the county in the loop on what our thinking is and our current plan," Sunser said.
Earlier talks would be beneficial, said Committee Member Ray Cianfrini.
"I think it's a great idea that we have the opportunity to get our discussion started earlier," Cianfrini said. "I mean, that's something that can only be helpful. Again, with the understanding that the college and the legislature are kind of handcuffed, at that early stage because you're not going to have figures; it's certainly an early stage for us to even being thinking about where we stand with our budget.
"But if you've got any insights you can give us, some direction you think you're going in, that's helpful. I do agree that opening the discussions early is a good way to do it."
Sunser replied: "I'm happy to do that. And again, I think one of the things that we can do is...I know it's a very busy time when you're dealing with the whole county budget in the fall...but even if it's through communication (by) e-mail or memo to say 'This is how things are looking at this point' and 'This is what we would be thinking about for the next year.' Because we'd be toward the tail end of your actual fiscal year when we're receiving these funds. So if that helps, we're happy to try to do that as well."
The college has until July 1 to present its final budget to SUNY administrators. Full-time students will pay $1,975 tuition per semester during the 2016-2017 year, up $25 from the current rate.
Meanwhile, the county can mull what it might be able to approve, and find out whether, legally, it can allocate more to the college later in the year when it adopts its own 2017 budget. (One issue previously cited is that the college and county budget calendars are out of sync: The college operates on an academic year; the county on a calendar year.)
From there, it was asked about the progress of the building projects at the Batavia campus.
The 18,748-square-foot Student Success Center will be located adjacent to the Conable Technology Building. The 56,614-square-foot Richard C. Call Arena will be located at the northwest end of the parking lot. The Arena will house the largest expanse of flexible, open floor space in the Genesee-Livingston-Orleans-Wyoming county region.
Sunser said good progress is being made and said the biggest thing people are talking about is the amount of rock (under the construction areas), especially by the Arena, where they've had to do some blasting to create retention ponds, a real sight to behold from the Thruway. That got a laugh from the committee members.
The footers have been poured for the student center. The goal is to have the new facilities 90-percent enclosed by November when cold weather starts to set in and then they can continue working through the winter. Both buildings are expected to be completed in early summer 2017.