The Republican-aligned majority in the Erie County Legislature on Thursday shut down calls to rehash the debate over which is the better location for Erie Community College’s proposed $30 million technology building – ECC North or the City Campus.
More than a partisan divide, the split was between lawmakers whose districts lie within the city and those representing districts in the suburbs. All seven suburbanites voted to put the kibosh on any further discussion of Democratic Legislator Patrick B. Burke’s call to withdraw the county’s $7.5 million commitment toward the proposed Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics, or STEM, project until ECC has raised its share of the costs.
Last year, JMZ Architects and Planners issued a $182,000 consultant’s report recommending ECC North, in Amherst, over ECC City, in downtown Buffalo, for the expansion. Burke on Thursday called the report biased and flawed.
“I feel that if we invest this money into ECC right now, we’re on the hook for a black hole of expenses,” said Burke, whose district encompasses South Buffalo and portions of Cheektowaga.
“We know that that whole campus has problems and we don’t know how much it’s going to cost us to refurbish that campus,” he said of ECC North.
Supporting Burke’s resolution were Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant and Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, both Democrats whose districts are entirely within the city.
Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, of Amherst, was the sole Democrat to vote with the majority against Burke’s resolution, which also called on the County Comptroller’s Office to conduct an audit of JMZ’s report. The North Campus is located in Loughran’s district.
“I can’t recall an issue that has been vetted more than this project of revitalizing our North Campus,” Loughran said, noting that two separate studies shared the same conclusions as those reached by JMZ.
“This Legislature has recognized that the North Campus is in deplorable condition. This is a beginning to revitalize an asset.”
Grant, who last year joined the rest of the Legislature in unanimously supporting the expansion of ECC North, said she was, nonetheless, disappointed that the majority declined to send Burke’s resolution to committee for further discussion, since neither Burke nor Miller-Williams was a member of the Legislature when the JMZ report was approved last year.
“We know that the train has left the station on this issue, but if we were to allow this matter to go to committee, it would give us a chance to be conciliatory and, at the same time, have their questions answered,” Grant said.
Members of the Legislature’s majority caucus argued that the failure to expand in Amherst will continue to be a boon to Niagara County Community College.
“I resent the fact that this is becoming a city/suburban issue, because it’s not,” said Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, a Conservative from West Seneca.
“The majority of students who go to NCCC and charge the municipalities and county these chargebacks come from the Northtowns. We are losing students to Niagara County Community College, and it is costing our residents money in every municipality in Erie County.”