ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — An unprecedented proposal to create a powerful statewide control board in New York to steer several cities, counties and school districts away from bankruptcy is getting a chilly response from mayors.
The mayors of Syracuse, Albany, Rochester and Yonkers said Monday that local leaders need to be part of any solution to the fiscal problems facing municipalities. The mayors say even a recovery from the recession won’t change the basic problems they’re confronting: diminishing tax revenues in part from declining populations, and rising costs including public worker payrolls, benefits and pension costs.
The mayors were reacting Monday to a New York Post story that said Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli were discussing a control board.
Cuomo and DiNapoli were discussing several options but were “keenly aware that one size does not fit all when it comes to fiscal stress,” DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said.
“We have not had discussions with the governor’s office about fiscal stress legislative proposals,” she said.
Cuomo wouldn’t comment.
Control boards have been used since the 1970s to cut spending and make other difficult decisions in New York City, Buffalo, Troy, Yonkers and Nassau County. The appointed boards are strongly opposed by powerful public workers unions because the boards have forced cuts in workforces and their benefits among other politically difficult decisions.
DiNapoli said in a report last week that communities could face “devastating” fiscal conditions in coming years as some municipalities in other states already have.
The Post said Cuomo had drafted a version of legislation for a statewide control board with extensive powers to cut costs, even union contracts.
Mayors Stephanie Miner of Syracuse, Mike Spano of Yonkers, Thomas Richards of Rochester and Gerald Jennings of Albany said they believe decisions about their cities should be made in concert with local officials.
“We, as mayors, are dealing with our new realities,” they stated Monday. “We are committed to working with the governor and comptroller to design a solution that will serve the interest of the state and its municipal governments.”
But the concern goes beyond the four cities.
Last week, DiNapoli reported nearly 300 local governments had deficits in 2010 or 2011 and more than 100 didn’t have enough cash to pay their current bills. His analysis of 4,000 local governments and school districts found many school districts also are on the brink.
A $400 million decline in local government and school revenues during the recession includes a nearly 6 percent drop in sales tax collections, a decline in property values in Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Suffolk, Ulster and Westchester counties and a $50 million loss of state aid to municipalities.
DiNapoli also found Cortland County, Binghamton, Gloversville, Jamestown, Lackawanna, New York City, the Village of Herkimer and the Village of Lyons are “dangerously close” to their constitutional tax limit. He said more governments may soon approach their taxing limit.
DiNapoli also cited poor budgeting and record-keeping at more than a dozen local governments and urged multi-year planning.
But planning alone might not be enough, said Richard Brodsky, a former assemblyman from Westhester and now a senior fellow at the Wagner School at New York University.
“In cities like Yonkers, Syracuse or Rochester, which have done those plans, the choice is bankruptcy, bailout or control board,” Brodsky said. “They simply cannot meet their community service obligations — police, fire, education, sanitation, parks — with the resources they have within the city. That’s the conversation New York needs to have, now.”