by Rachel Hunter
Since St. Lawrence County does not have a community college, hometowns pay “chargebacks” that cover part of a student’s tuition at a New York State community college.
In order to do so, students are required to obtain a certificate of residency from county officials. The regulation is outlined in Section 6305 of a state education law that dates back to 1955. The county pays the fee directly to the colleges and then charges each town and the city of Ogdensburg for their respective students.
Town of Gouverneur Supervisor Robert Ritchie on Feb. 14 at its monthly board meeting reported that this year’s chargeback totals were $82,599.21 – and that the Town of Gouverneur was working to reduce that list.
Supervisor Ritchie said one thing they can do is ensure that a Gouverneur student actually lives within the town lines.
“Unfortunately, there are a few people in the Town of Fowler who have a Gouverneur address,” he said. “They are put on our list because it goes by mailing address. We have to go through this list and kind of look at the names. If we are not sure of the address on here, we have to literally go out and check the roads to see if it is within the township or if it is just over the line.
“Now Mike (McQuade) has gone through the list and made about eight or nine changes of people on the list who shouldn’t be there. We found one person who was charging us for semesters in 2016 that moved out of town in 2015. It is a situation!”
Deputy Supervisor Eldon Conklin added, “Mike (McQuade) has done a heck of a job of tracing it, and making the county aware and making them look things over…”
Supervisor Ritchie then told the following: “I remember when Don Peck was supervisor about 10 years ago, that the whole board went over to the tax people over at the county. We had a list, and I think we saved between $10,000 and $12,000. It’s just that they go by the address that the kid gives them.”
Supervisor Ritchie said they also have found that Gouverneur students sometimes go to a community college for the fall semester, and do not return in the spring. The certificate of residency is good for the entire school year, and thus there is no way to tell when a student drops out or transfers to a four-year college.
“It’s a hard thing,” Supervisor Ritchie said. “We do it by asking about names. Do you know this one? Do you know that one? They don’t really argue with us when we tell them that these aren’t ours that they got to look elsewhere to charge somebody the money but it is just kind of a nuisance to have to do it.
“We have talked about how a student can register in the fall and it carries over into the spring. They ought to have to re-register in the spring… so you would have a fall list and a spring list. It shouldn’t be an automatic thing.”
Supervisor Ritchie then asked the town board to look the list over, and to give the office or Mike McQuade a call if they find errors.
“We do the best we can, but it is sort of an expensive thing when it comes down to chargebacks,” Supervisor Ritchie said. “And now the governor wants to give everyone a free ride!”
The next meeting of the Town of Gouverneur board is to be held on March 14 at 7 p.m. at the town hall.
by Rachel Hunter