The continuing Erie Community College budget crisis will be front and center this week at the Erie County Legislature as lawmakers will hold a public hearing on the county executive’s ECC budget message on Thursday (Jun 4) at 3 p. m which recommends approval of the school’s proposed spending plan for the 2015-2016 year.
Lawmakers received the message from County Executive Mark Poloncarz last Friday and it recommends adoption of the college’s $110,978,792 budget which includes a $17,554,317 subsidy from the county, a modest $125,000 increase to a college facing serious financial challenges necessitating another $300 tuition increase. The county subsidy represents abut 15.6 percent of the ECC budget, woefully short of the 26.7 percent it should be providing. Poloncarz is mum on the shortfall as the college sinks further in its own red ink.
Among those expected to speak at the public hearing is Andy Sako, the president of the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College (FFECC) which represents 461 full-time employees and 850 part-timers who have been working without a contract since 2009. That number includes faculty, teachers, counselors, and librarians among other.
Sako, who declined to comment on ongoing negotiations on a new working agreement, is expected to comment on several issues that we have reported on previously regarding the college’s long-term prognosis. We have reported extensively on President Quinn’s disengagement due to outside interests, low morale among workers at all three campuses, and lack of planning for the long term.
Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick, chairman of the Enrichment Committee which will meet on the ECC budget on Thursday before the full public hearing, said a few weeks ago “we need a plan [for the college] like the UB 20/20 plan. We should have an ECC 20/25 plan for the long term.”
Hardwick appears to be a voice in the wilderness at this point as neither County Executive Mark Poloncarz or ECC President Jack Quinn have publicly talked about a plan for the future for the college that has rapidly spent down its reserves to meet its deepening financial crisis. In fact, neither Poloncarz, a Democrat, or Quinn, a former Republican congressman who is paid $192,500 to run the college, have said much of anything about the falling fortunes of ECC, a labor force treasure pool in these times of new growth in Western New York.
In his message, Poloncarz recommended approval of the college’s budget but wants no resolve clause that is included in the proposed ECC budget that would require the county to help pay for any cost increases resulting from any labor agreements. That is a continuation of the view of the previous administration of Republican Chris Collins.
What Poloncarz is saying is that ECC employees are not county employees and should not be eligible for county funding to cover any labor agreement. But he does add that “the potential ability of the County to support the college in such a way should be determined on a case-by-case basis, and not automatically assumed by the college in its internal budget process.” If Poloncarz has any money hidden away to help settle a contract in this, an election year, he wants to be able to pull it out of a hat at the last minute without being resolved to do it in a budget.
While no one is publicly commenting on the current negotiations between ECC, the Poloncarz administration, and the FFECC union, several sources confirm there have been several meetings and another is scheduled for June 9, a sign that some progress is being made.
Regarding those labor negotiations, Legislator Hardwick said Monday “I do have a sense they [Poloncarz. ECC] are searching for a funding solution and there is some momentum. I think it is the responsible thing to do…and there seems to be a willingness to find a way to do it.”
Hardwick said he has been asked by college officials to allow them to appear at his Enrichment Committee public meeting on Thursday before the full budget hearing, but he said he has not made up his mind if he will agree to their request.