by Jeremy Moule
Tonight the County Legislature will hold its annual vote on a five-year plan for county infrastructure projects. The 2013-2018 Capital Improvement Program includes Monroe Community College's proposal to move its downtown campus.
College officials want to move the Damon City Campus from the Sibley Building on East Main Street to several buildings in the Kodak complex on State Street. Doing so, however, will require $75 million, and roughly half of that money will need to come from the county. College officials and trustees, who already have the support of County Executive Maggie Brooks and the student governments at both MCC campuses, will need the backing of legislators.
Legislature Democrats are standing behind Mayor Tom Richards, who wants MCC to stay at the Sibley building. But they haven't ruled out the Kodak property.
"I don't think anybody in the caucus has made a hard and fast decision," Democratic Leader Ted O'Brien told me earlier this month.
O'Brien says that the Legislature, as a body, hasn't had a chance to go through the pros and cons of the two sites. Democrats want the proposals to be debated, with public input, on the Legislature floor, he says.
He and other Democrats say they have questions about details, including the amount of space MCC actually needs and whether the cost could be reduced for either site. But the Kodak site has been a possibility for two years. Shouldn't the Democrats have reached out to MCC officials and asked these questions long before now? O'Brien says he's "made inquiries" and that the legislators are "trying to find out the answers."
"So far, all we have is the CIP and ultimately maybe a bonding vote, but nothing's come before us where we really get to examine the merits of the issue as we would any other referral," O'Brien says. "So no referral has come before us. We're doing what we can to be as informed as we can, but no referral has come before us, so we haven't had legislative debate."
Some Republicans have also had reservations about the move. Earlier this year, when the MCC board of trustees selected the Kodak site, a couple of legislators said that they weren't sure of the need for a downtown campus at all.
Ultimately, Tuesday's vote isn't the one that really matters, but it'll provide some insight into legislators' thoughts on the project. Some Dems have said they may not vote for the plan if the language isn't right; they want references to the downtown campus to be site-neutral. Some sort of investment will be necessary at either location, especially since MCC officials want the college to own its downtown campus.
The Capital Improvement Program, which contains myriad projects, from roadwork to replacing library computers, requires a simple majority to pass.
The big vote happens in December. That's when the Legislature traditionally votes to authorize bonding for the next year's projects, as listed in the CIP. Any sort of bonding requires a "yes" vote from two-thirds of the legislators; that's 20 votes. There are 18 Republicans in the Legislature and 11 Democrats, which means that at least two Democrats will have to vote in favor of bonding.
But a lot can happen between now and December.