Water-treatment program again fighting for funding

February 8, 2012
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DOVER — Last year, the Environmental Training Center enrolled about 2,100 students.

The facility at Delaware Technical Community College’s Georgetown campus teaches employees from government and private industry how to manage wastewater and sewage treatment.

For the second straight year, however, Gov. Jack Markell’s budget proposes cutting funds to the facility.

The $250,000 the state gives it per year is modest. The sticking point for the governor’s office is the way it’s funded, said Ann Visalli, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“We support the program. We think it’s a good program,” Visalli said. “We’d like to see some cost-sharing from the municipalities.”

Currently, the state foots the bill for training dozens of local public works employees each year. Students at the center learn the skills needed to comply with state and federal regulations while working at water and sewer authorities.

Delaware Tech president Orlando J. George Jr. would like to see the state continue to support the facility, and he made restoring those funds to the program his top priority in a hearing before the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee Monday.

“This is the water we drink,” George said. “The people who run these treatment plants need to be trained.”

Many of the trainees come from the City of Wilmington, Kent County and Sussex County, according to Delaware Tech.

When the governor proposed cutting the funds in last year’s budget, lawmakers decided to continue funding it anyway. George hopes the same things will happen again this time. Otherwise, he’s unsure whether the training facility can continue operating as it has.

“I don’t have a pot of money to keep it going,” he said. “If the committee doesn’t fund it, I would have to go back to the municipalities and counties and ask them to help. … But it’s kind of a hard time to have to go to them and ask to them to pony up.”

In addition to restore the water-treatment funding, George asked legislators on the committee to approve another $679,000 for Delaware Tech to add 10 new positions that would help improve the college’s graduation rate, he said. The new employees would help provide more one-on-one mentoring, better course curriculums and assistants for students applying for financial aid.

“The more help we can give that student in securing financial aid, the more likely they are to continue,” George said. “Students get frustrated with the process … a lot of our students need one-on-one attention. There are a lot of hurdles that have nothing to do with academics.”

The governor’s recommended budget would have Delaware Tech receiving $74.27 million, about 2 percent increase over last year’s budget.

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