OSWEGO, NY – Dr. Laurence Malone, a Hartwick College economics professor, presented his plan for a new revenue source for small cities in Upstate New York, including Oswego.
His proposal, to add a $100 fee ($50 per semester) to SUNY college students’ bill would greatly alleviate much of the financial stress several upstate college cities are facing.
His paper encompasses six college cities – Cortland, Elmira, Geneva, Oneonta, Plattsburgh and Oswego.
“This paper proposes a policy response to some fiscal challenges in small Upstate New York cities that have significant public and private college student populations,” he said Tuesday night in the Council Chambers. “These populations require unfunded outlays to ensure public safety for college students, which add to municipal fiscal stress.”
Total spending and public safety expenditures per capita (2012), the annual spending per student for public safety, ranges from a low of $389 in Cortland to a high of $526 in Oswego, he pointed out.
Because the student populations require highly trained personnel and equipment to ensure their public safety, “an unfunded burden has been places on municipal finances,” he said. “Since residential college students consume the same set of public services that are consumed by property owners and renting students, a classic ‘free rider’ problem exists. Students attending college in upstate cities benefit from public safety services without paying for the cost of those services.”
According to 2010 census figures, Oswego’s population was 18,142. The student population (undergraduates only) was 7,328 – 40 percent.
The fee would turn the “free riders” into paying for the services and the protection, they don’t have to utilize it; the fact that the services are there will make mom and or dad sleep better at night, Dr. Malone said.
According to his figures, Oswego could potentially generate $732,800. With a deficit of $1,417, 604, that would mean the shortfall would be sliced to $684,804. That, he said, would be much more manageable.
“I believe that SUNY Central in Albany could simply do this. They could say this is eminent and reasonable; $100 per year for residential students in all of our SUNY campuses,” he said.
His paper has already sparked some legislative activity, namely the “SUNY Impact Aid Bill,” proposed in October by State Sen. James L. Seward (R/C/I – Oneonta). (https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/james-l-seward/seward-bill-would-mean-mandate-relief-suny-communities)
Senator Patty Ritchie is also on board, he said. In the Assembly, Will Barclay is not, he added.
The legislation is going through the committee process currently, he said.
“Our findings demonstrate that under existing federal and state laws defining residency, college students in our Upstate small cities enjoy benefits from services funded only by non-student residents. We have shown how colleges contribute to budgetary distress in upstate small cities and have identified an inequity where local property owners bear the full burden of unfair taxation in the provisioning of essential public services,” Dr. Malone said. “Those results call for the possibility of levying a special fee on residential college students to support the provisioning of public safety services. More generally, there may be additional legal concerns on fairness since some residents currently bear the costs for free riders who utilize essential public safety services and reside at colleges.”
There are some potential stumbling blocks in the proposal, however. For example, the student population figure doesn’t show how many are living off campus (and therefore paying for the services through their rent) and the fact that the vast majority of SUNY Oswego is located within the borders of Oswego Town, not the city.