Community college gets a share of tobacco money
LOCKPORT - The County Legislature handed Niagara County Community College $300,000 in tobacco revenue Tuesday to avoid increasing the amount of property-tax money devoted to the college.
NCCC President Antonette J. Cleveland had sought a $345,000 increase in county cost for the college, but the legislators decided that the $300,000 in tobacco money was all NCCC would get.
Cleveland said she would probably cut her budget for office and educational supplies by $45,000.
With that cut, the spending total for the 2001-02 academic year will be $31,586,888, an increase of 5.79 percent from last year.
The county's cost, including the tobacco money, will be $7.2 million, an increase of 4.35 percent from 2000-01.
Cleveland said it probably wouldn't matter to the State University Board of Trustees that the increase in county participation didn't come from property taxes.
"It's a very creative way to address our needs," Cleveland said.
Cleveland had been concerned that if the county didn't show an increased "maintenance of effort" by increasing its funding to the college, SUNY wouldn't allow a tuition increase she is counting on to help balance her budget.
The hike of $100 per year for a full-time student would bring tuition to $2,600, which is $100 above SUNY's current tuition limit for community colleges.
Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, said any college spending of the tobacco money would have to be on condition that it was regarded as legal by the county's bond counsel.
The county's use of tobacco money is restricted to equipment purchases or construction projects. County Attorney Claude A. Joerg, examining a list of possible tobacco-funded items that included a large amount of computer software maintenance, expressed concern that those might not be allowed by bond counsel.
"If they don't approve it, (NCCC) doesn't get it," Joerg said.
On other topics, the Legislature voted to sue the City of Niagara Falls and the Towns of Lewiston and Wheatfield for not paying their premiums for the county's mutual workers' compensation plan.
The threatened suits go along with a similar threat approved by the Legislature in March against the Towns of Royalton and Niagara.
The five municipalities owe a total of $1.45 million in unpaid premiums. They are either planning to withdraw from the program or considering doing so.
Meanwhile, the Legislature approved a set of four contracts for $2.1 million worth of construction at the college. The project includes an addition to the administration building and renovations in Building G.
But Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, blocked the general construction contract for almost $2.5 million with Huber Construction of Depew. Virtuoso claimed Huber violated the county's bid conditions in regard to extra charges for asbestos removal.
The second-lowest bidder, Gordon F. Smith Construction of Niagara Falls, has written a formal letter of protest. Joerg ruled the Huber bid legal, but the Legislature unanimously tabled it.
The Legislature also went ahead with the construction of a new public safety training and office building next to the county jail. It approved four construction contracts totaling $2,163,094.