In Cortland, Sen. Seward pushes aid bill for cities that host SUNY campuses

CORTLAND, N.Y. – New York State Senator James Seward (R–Oneonta) appeared at city hall Thursday to announce legislation that would provide state aid to municipalities that host four-year SUNY colleges.

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The plan would provide much-needed mandate relief for Cortland and other municipalities that host SUNY campuses, Seward said.

The aid would be distributed according to a formula based on 1) the cost of providing public safety services to SUNY students, 2) existing state aid, and 3) the total student population of SUNY institutions. The aid would be available to municipalities that host four-year SUNY campuses.

Seward says the aid is meant to offset public safety costs borne by cities that host SUNY schools.

“There are some real financial costs associated with hosting a SUNY campus,” Seward said. “These are costs for hometown taxpayers.”

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State Sen. James Seward speaking at City Hall Thursday, where he highlighted mandate relief legislation for municipalities that host SUNY campuses. At left is Mack Cook, city director of administration and finance; at right is Cortland Police Chief Michael Catalano (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

According to the formula, the city of Cortland would receive nearly $600,000 in state aid. (For comparison, the city of Oswego would receive close to $1.5 million, while the village of Brockport would get nearly $1.3 million.)

Mack Cook, the city’s director of administration and finance, was part of the team that came up with the formula.

Of the $600,000 the city would receive, half would go to lowering the city’s tax levy, with the other half funding services that support the city as a whole, such as public infrastructure, Cook said.

The city of Cortland’s population is just over 19,000 people, 6,300 of which are SUNY Cortland students–representing about 33 percent of the city’s population.

The cost of maintaining public safety services–police, fire emergency services–make up about 40 percent of the city’s budget, according to Cook.

Cook emphasized that while hosting a SUNY campus contributes heavily to public safety costs, the legislation is not meant to disparage the student population.

“We do receive a tremendous amount of benefit from SUNY and their students,” Cook said. “This is not at all wanting to diminish both the financial and community support that hosting a SUNY institution bestows on you.”

Mayor Brian Tobin echoed Cook's comments, saying while SUNY Cortland provides a great anchor for the city, it comes at a cost to permanent residents.

"When you add a certain population to a municipality, it does put an additional strain on local resources," Tobin said. "We are seeing an increase in terms of public safety costs, and there's a potential negative impact on other issues, such as funding infrastructure."

Seward has called on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include the SUNY Impact Aid legislation in his executive budget. The legislation is co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D–Ithaca).

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