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By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer

The just-finished state budget has good financial tidings for Mohawk Valley Community College — nearly $900,000 of them — but it may not be enough to hold off cutbacks.

The news comes as the college weighs steps to bridge a gap of as much as $2 million as it builds a budget for the next school year. Options for balancing revenues and expenses include a tuition hike, staff reductions and a budget decrease.

MVCC and other community colleges across New York are in line for an additional $150 for each full-time equivalent student. For MVCC, that means about $870,000 when no "new" money was thought to be coming from Albany in the year ahead, said Matthew Snyder, director of marketing and communications.

The state spending plan being voted on this week now includes $31 million for community colleges that wasn’t on the table when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo released his executive budget in January.

Even with the additional state assistance, MVCC, which has campuses in Utica and Rome, is not out of the fiscal thicket yet.

"We still expect the overall revenue to decrease, but the decrease won’t be quite as large," said Snyder of the effect of the additional state aid. The current MVCC budget is $50.2 million. Tuition for two semesters is $3,400.

More state aid can’t entirely solve the imbalance because the college budget is driven by enrollment, and MVCC is looking at a decrease next year. Fewer students means less state aid and tuition money. Spring enrollment was level compared with the same semester a year ago — a reversal after 15 semesters of consecutive growth. The spring head count, which always is lower than the fall one, is 6,851 full- and part-time students.

Snyder points to shifting demographics, like a birth rate drop that began years ago.

"There are a lot of institutions feeling changing demographics," he said.

Driving the expense side of the equation are such factors as health insurance, pensions, utilities and contractual items that can’t be avoided like computer software service.

"We’re expecting a pretty stiff headwind in the budget process," Snyder said.

With employee salaries and benefits accounting for about 85 percent of the budget, staff cutbacks seem to be in the offing. College President Randall J. Van Wagoner said in an article in a recent edition of a school newsletter that "it is likely that will we will need to reduce staffing." He then said this might be achieved through attrition, a retirement incentive and unfilled vacancies. School trustees have already approved a retirement incentive for 18 positions in different areas.

"We’ve sent messages to the college community letting people know that’s a possibility," replied Snyder when questioned about layoffs.

Asked about a report that six administrators have already been notified that they would be laid off, Snyder stated, "We’re still expecting our revenue to decrease by about $880,000, and there may be other variables we don’t yet know. We had previously announced to the college community that we would have likelihood of staff reductions next fiscal year. Now we know there will be. These are being accomplished as much as possible through planned retirements, attrition and re-assignment. A small number of currently occupied positions will be eliminated from the staffing plan, and confidential conversations are under way between the college and affected employees and their representatives."

As for tuition, Snyder said the trustees have been "clear and consistent" over the years that any increases should be "small and incremental."

Before the state came across with the student aid increase, the plan was to hold any tuition hike to no more than 3 percent, or about $100 for a full-time student.

The school anticipates no increase in the county’s sponsor share. This year’s amount is $7,280,100 — a figure that hasn’t changed in three years. In fact, County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. proposed reducing it this year, but later backed off and kept the funding at the 2011 level.

Should the trustees adopt a 2012-13 spending plan that is smaller than the current one, it will be the first budget-to-budget decrease in 15 years.

RomeSentinel.com

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