News Coverage on Unfunded Mandates
Yonkers, upstate cities face perilous financial timesJoseph Spector
ALBANY — The state’s fiscal woes may have been largely remedied, but the problems have been pushed down to local governments. And perhaps nowhere is it more pronounced than in upstate cities.
Most large cities in New York are preparing their budgets for a fiscal year that starts July 1. Mayors are warning of more layoffs and service cuts to deal with a declining tax base and growing costs.
They said they are running out of fiscal maneuvers, and years of borrowing have caught up with them.
“If we don’t start to address the needs of the cities, you’re going to see a systematic failure in the cities all across America,” said first-year Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. “They are just going to start, one by one, going belly up.”
Yonkers faces a whopping $462 million budget gap over the next three years that is forcing 114 layoffs, program cuts and a proposed 3.7 percent tax increase this year. Rochester has warned that it and other cities could end with state control boards, which Buffalo already has.
While other local governments, such as counties and towns, have railed against the cost of state-mandated programs, cities say they are particularly hurt in a bad economy. They have higher concentrations of poverty and require more services, such as large police and fire departments, mayors said.
Thirty-seven upstate counties lost population between 2010 and 2011, meaning cities have a smaller tax base and are coping with job losses in the manufacturing sector that has stemmed decades.
Cities don’t reap as much benefit from sales-tax revenue as counties do, so they rely more heavily on property taxes to fund their budgets. But the property tax doesn’t get them as far as it used to.
“Cities were supposed to be traditionally funded by real-estate property tax. And that’s just not going to work in the future,” said Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards, the former preside