With a month left in this year’s legislative session, a newly formed coalition of citizens, businesses, school districts and local governments is banding together to press lawmakers in Albany and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reduce programs and services that are mandated by the state. The mandate relief group is calling the campaign STOP (Stop Taking Our Power) Albany and is asking New Yorkers to sign a petition and contact their lawmakers and the governor.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said more state aid is not the answer for local governments and school districts. Eighty-five cents of every property-tax dollar collected in the county is spent on state mandated programs and services, he said.
“Increasing state aid increases the longevity of this problem because that just masks the problem. They will continue to throw money that they don’t have, by the way, to perpetuate this problem because it’s easier to do that than to confront the problem. And so I think the structure has to be changed,” he said.
The coalition is bipartisan, and members have some differences, but they will speak with one voice in Albany “because what we learned in the past is, everyone’s off on their own agenda and so it’s very easy for Albany to put their fingers in their ears and to yes everybody to death and nobody can come to a conclusion,” he said.
William Hanauer, mayor of Ossining village and president of the Westchester Municipal Officials Association, said the state’s 2-year-old annual cap on the property-tax levy, along with unfunded mandates, “has only made it more difficult and in some cases impossible to deliver the services that local governments exist to provide.” The associations membership includes 45 cities, villages and towns.
North Salem, for example, has lost 19 percent of its workforce, has reduced police funding by 20 percent and has been forced to eliminate brush and leaf pickups, “in a rural town, not a good idea,” he said. New Rochelle is down 40 police officers, 20 firefighters, a building inspector and three community service officers and a court secretary, and the city will continue to lose Department of Public Works by attrition.
He provided additional examples of struggling municipalities at today’s news conference: