Originally created 06/13/05

Don't punish Aiken Tech

What has the Aiken County Council got against Aiken Technical College? It's one of the best colleges of its kind in the Southeast; it contributes mightily to the area's economy by training thousands of people every year to take good-paying jobs in multiple industries; and it helps fill the employment needs not only of existing employers, but also of new ones seeking an educated work force.

Yet, the Aiken County Council is preparing to withhold vital funds - $342,000 - from the college because council members are stubbornly engaging in a pointless feud with the legislative delegation. This is the kind of petty nonsense that turns people off of politics and undermines public confidence in local government.

In short, it's infuriating.

What steams the county council is that it doesn't have a seat on Aiken Tech's education commission. State law mandates that the county help pay for the school's maintenance costs. And sometimes, as they did last year, the costs come to more than the council anticipates, which can make budget planning difficult.

As a result, the council believes if it had a representative of its own on the school's education panel, it could be alerted to funding needs in time to better deal with them. So the council made a perfectly reasonable request - the right to, in effect, name their own member to the panel.

The legislative delegation, which state law empowers to make commission recommendations to the governor, then made a perfectly reasonable response. Tell us who you want on the commission, lawmakers told the council, and that's the person we'll nominate.

This is when the county council became unreasonable. The legislators' offer wasn't good enough - the council said it wanted to nominate its own candidate to the governor, without going through the legislature.

The problem is, that would necessitate a change in the law - affecting not only Aiken County, but every county in the state with a state college - and there was absolutely no appetite for such a big change in the General Assembly, said state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, the delegation chairman.

This is when matters got ugly; the county council said it wouldn't fully fund the college, thus forcing a whopping tuition increase of $88 a semester, to a total of $1,506, and making Aiken Tech the most expensive college of its kind in the state system.

It's not clear what the council expects to accomplish by this. Its beef is not with Aiken Tech, which has no control over who sits on its education commission. And it's certainly not with Aiken Tech students, who'll pay the price, unfairly, for the funding shortfall. It's not even with the legislative delegation, which is offering to do all it can to give the county council its fair say.

The council's beef is with the General Assembly as a whole, which couldn't care less if members withhold $342,000 from Aiken Tech. Hopefully, the county council will come to its senses later this month, in time to restore full funding to the college. If it doesn't, it's ill-serving the Aiken area community.


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