Suffolk County supervisors were the latest to speak out against County Executive Steve Levy's proposed 2012 budget when they met earlier this week in Hauppauge to protest Levy's decision to not pay for out-of-county tuition costs for community college students next year.
Counties pay state taxes for students who choose to attend community colleges in other counties, which is in turn paid to the host counties.
In total, the decision will costs towns over $11 million, according to a report from County Comptroller Joe Sawicki.
The supervisors called the proposal a tax and unfunded mandate on towns — brought to their attention at a time when most of them had already submitted their own 2012 budgets.
"What is most troublesome about this effort to transfer the cost of community college tuition to the towns is that it is not about saving money – it’s simply an effort to shift the burden of the cost to other entities," said Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. "And it’s being done without even the courtesy of discussion, or ample time to allow towns to prepare for the change in expense. The county should be working with the towns, not against them.”
Monday's meeting came less than a week after to call the county executive's budget a "bad joke" on county taxpayers.
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell told the Suffolk Times that Levy approached him about his proposal on Sept. 30, the same day supervisors' budgets were due at their respective town clerks' offices.
In defense of the proposal, Mark Smith, Levy's deputy director of communications said that under the current system, towns paying a disproportionate amount of the out-of-county tax would be equalized with the proper ratio of out-of-county community college students.
“We should ensure that some portions of the county are no longer subsidizing other portions that have a larger percentage of out-of-county students," Smith said. "Paying on a town-by-town basis will accomplish this. This is about fairness."
Smith added that Nassau County has been having towns pay out-of-county tuition costs since 2004 and cited four other counties in the state that follow those practices.
"If this was purely about budget, we could be passing along other costs that are legally allowed to be apportioned among towns such as Board of Elections, dredging or emergency services," Smith said.