Funding cut forces CCAC hiring freeze

College acts after county reduces its support by $2.5 million

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Community College of Allegheny County has implemented an across-the-board hiring freeze.

The Wednesday afternoon announcement came one day after Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said he would withhold $2.5 million from the school this year as part of a four-pronged effort to fill a $15 million budget gap caused by a reduction in state aid to the county.

The county had allocated $22.7 million to the college for 2011.

The other elements in Mr. Onorato's plan to eliminate the deficit include using $5 million from drink-tax funds as reimbursement for county-aided mass transit projects and taking another $5 million from a hotel-motel tax account to support county parks.

The final $2.5 million would come from changes in Department of Human Services contracts for programs at the county jail.

"This [county] reduction was unforeseen, and there are still many unknowns," CCAC President Alex Johnson said in a statement. "But we will work through the process."

The community college has eliminated all raises for administrators.

In addition to getting less county support, CCAC faces a 10 percent cut, equal to about $3.5 million, in its state funding.

The college president has asked faculty and administrators to review course schedules with an eye to maximizing class size. Enrollment, however, will not be capped and students can continue to sign up for fall semester.

Most credit courses are scheduled to begin Aug. 22. Non-credit offerings will start Sept. 6.

County Councilman William Robinson, who also is chairman of CCAC's board of trustees, called the timing of Mr. Onorato's announcement unfortunate. "Given the current economic environment, CCAC had already engaged in an extensive and challenging budget planning process," he said.

CCAC trustees in May approved a $105 million budget that included a 2.3 percent tuition hike for the fall term. It raised the basic course cost from $85.25 to $87.25 per credit.

That number might have to be raised again, in light of the reductions in state and county aid, he warned.

No additional tuition increase would be considered before spring term at the earliest, a spokesman for the community college said.

Mr. Onorato presented his proposals for filling the budget gap to county council on Tuesday night. He will need council's approval for what could be the trickiest part of the plan: taking $5 million from the county's drink-tax fund.

Mr. Onorato wants council to increase the county's allocation to the Port Authority, which operates buses and light rail, by $5 million.

The county would then take that money back as reimbursement for county contributions toward previous mass-transit capital improvements.

County Solicitor Michael Wojcik said Wednesday that it is his legal opinion that Mr. Onorato's proposal complies with a county court order that drink-tax funds be used only to support the authority operations and improvements.

Mr. Wojcik said the Onorato administration would get a bill to county council by Aug. 18. That would be in time for the legislative body's next meeting after its summer break.

A spokesman for the authority said Mr. Onorato's proposal would not affect transit agency operations.

Council President Jim Burn said he and his colleagues would withhold judgment on the proposal until they saw the actual language in the drink-tax bill.

Mr. Onorato also proposes taking $5 million from a hotel-motel tax account and using that money to help finance some of the county's $28 million costs for operating parks.

The hotel-motel tax money is to be used to support tourism. Courts have concluded that county parks are tourist destinations, Mr. Wojcik said.

He cited events like concerts at Hartwood Acres and South Park and attractions like the new mountain biking course at North Park that draw visitors.

Mr. Burn predicted that council would have many questions for Onorato administration officials about proposals to fill the county's budget deficit.

"There are a number of things we are going to have to do that we may not like, because Gov. [Tom] Corbett's state budget punched a $15 million hole in the county's budget," Mr. Burn said. "We're left with limited options trying to fix what the governor broke."

Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159.


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