The state legislature will end the current session in just a few weeks, and another year will pass without relief from the crippling unfunded mandates that the bi-partisan statewide Mayors’ and Municipal Officials Association asked our elected officials to address. Even a bill that required the state, rather than the local governments, to pay the costs for any future unfunded mandates contained in legislation that is passed in Albany, died in committee.
As a result, the MTA tax levied on the village remains as well as the Wick’s Law which requires that individual contracts be bid for every trade when a school or municipality undertakes a construction project. The continuation of this law will again adversely impact the village as the school embarks on the auditorium renovation project. It is estimated that the Wick’s Law provisions increase the cost of municipal projects by 10 percent to 30 percent versus the same work done in the private sector.
Pension reform simply did not happen. A plan was promulgated allowing financially strapped municipalities to pay a smaller amount of their pension obligation in the next few years, with balloon payments coming five years out. This will stave off some local bankruptcies in the short term and five years hence, when the full impact of the delayed obligations come to roost, many elected state office holders who favored this option will have moved on or retired. This is the ultimate in “kicking the can down the road” and the “not on my watch” mind set.
The New York state requirement for binding arbitration for uniformed municipal employees was also not addressed. Under the current system, when a municipality and a union reach a stalemate, binding arbitration is triggered and strangers are dispatched to a community to make the financial decisions relating to a new labor agreement leaving the local electeds and the property taxpayers out of the equation. Communities are also penalized if they have a fund balance due to prudent planning. The lesson seems to be if you do not save for a rainy day or emergency, you are rewarded with a lower arbitration award.
The village is also a proponent of legislation that would allow municipal notification of public meetings online versus weekly newspapers. The information would reach residents in a more timely manner and at cost savings for the taxpayers. The bill is aggressively opposed by the print media.
Though major changes to the burdens imposed on New York state property taxpayers are not being addressed in Albany, our local legislators, Sen. George Lattimer and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, have been very responsive to issues unique to their district.
As example, our legislators championed a bill that would move the Eastchester Fire District election from its December date with limited polling hours and locations to coincide with the regular November elections. Since the Eastchester Fire District budget of approximately $16 million now surpasses both the municipal budgets of Tuckahoe and Bronxville, offering the taxpayers more hours to cast their votes and more polling places seems only fair. The bill passed in the Assembly and is awaiting a Senate vote.
Another bill with great financial impact to the village is also winding its way through the legislature courtesy of Mr. Lattimer and Ms. Paulin. The village, along with 10 other municipalities, banded together to champion a bill that would allocate the cost of water hydrant maintenance to all users of water and not just property taxpayers as is the current structure. Last year, Bronxville village taxpayers spent $105,614.00 to maintain the hydrants throughout the village. With the passage of this bill, there will be a more equitable allocation of the maintenance costs.
These local bills, though quite necessary, are only small potatoes compared to the unfunded burdens that are passed to local governments via Albany.
From my vantage point, it is both disheartening and unsustainable. We have elected officials unwilling to address a pension plan in many cases because as career politicians they have a vested interest. We have strayed so far from the Founding Father’s model of giving a few years of service to one’s government and then returning to private sector careers. It may take the populace electing representatives who have non-political expertise, who do not fear defeat or aspire to even higher office to get us back on the right path. Property taxpayers simply must view themselves as the most important special interest group and make their voices heard.