With one week until the start of the new fiscal year, several budget policies will have a significant impact on counties and county taxpayers.
The proposal cited by county leaders as posing the biggest threat to county budgets across the state is the Governor's proposal to fund the Aid and Incentives for Municiplities (AIM) program out of the county share of sales tax. This program has been a state responsibility for forty years.
"The State of New York has a spending problem, and over the years has become too reliant on local tax dollars to fund state programs," said Stephen Acquario, Executive Director of the NYS County Executives Association. "If Albany wants to mandate a program or create a new law or provide a new service, they need to fund it. If it's worth mandating, then it's worth paying for with the state's own dollars."
New York State has been sharing revenue with towns, cities, villages and counties for almost half a century. In 1990 the state eliminated the revenue-sharing program for counties. In the late 2000s the state eliminated New York City's participation in the revenue-sharing program. Now the state wants to eliminate revenue-sharing for towns and villages, and have counties make them whole with local sales tax revenue."
Counties are calling on Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to fund the AIM program the way it was designed to be funded: by New York State.
Dan McCoy, Albany County Executive, said: "We've been making difficult decisions here in Albany County. We've been under the cap for the last seven years. We had a zero percent tax increase for six, and this year alone we reduced taxes by 1.5 percent...we've done our job and the problem is, with the 2 percent property tax cap, the state hasn't done its job. It hasn't reduced unfunded mandates. We all got behind the tax cap. We rolled up our sleeves, worked together, and made difficult decisions. But the mandates are still piling up. Decisions are being made at the Capitol that impact counties, but no one is asking us how this will impact county budgets, no one is sitting down with us to come up with solutions."
Charles H. Nesbitt, Jr., NYSAC President and Orleans County Chief Administrative Officer said: "County officials are doing everything we can to control local spending. We have reduced our workforce, implemented enhanced shared service programs, consolidated departments and programs, and cut services. However, we cannot achieve any success with continued state interference in local home rule affairs. The Governor's proposed cost shifts, mandates, and cuts will actually consume more than any anticipated new sales tax revenue. It's a shell game and business as usual."
Chris Moss, Chemung County Executive, said: "Elmira and Binghamton have two of the most distressed economies in the Southern Tier. AIM is important to these municipalities. Having the counties be responsible as the funding mechanism for AIM is simply unacceptable. Here in Chemung County that amounts to about $343,000, and that will have a detrimental effect on the services we're providing the public. Again and again, Albany keeps transferring costs onto the backs of counties - there has to be a stopping point."
Marc Molinaro, Duchess County Executive, said: "This is the standard Albany dance, where one group is leveraged against another. The AIM relationship between state and local governments is a long-standing relationship that allows municipalities to make important investments to support services they deliver. And that relationship is the last bastion of support that the state has provided local communities.
Having served in the state legislature, and co-sponsoring the property tax cap, we expected at that time that with the imposition of the tax cap the state would engage in an effort to reduce mandated spending. We know that hasn't happened. While I certainly support making permanent the property tax cap, in this county the elimination of AIM is an additional $1.3 million in new expenses while also creating an adversarial relationship between the county and the municipality. We spent the last 8 years growing that relationship, sharing services, consolidating, working together - and this creates yet one new area of argument between municipalities."
Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive, said: "The AIM funding mandate is our biggest budget concern. We share roughly 46% of our sales tax with our towns, villages, cities, and school districts. If we're taking money out of the sales tax to make up for AIM previously paid by the State, you're hurting every one of those municipalities. So not only is Erie County hurt, every one of the municipalities in our community is hurt. This would have a negative impact on Buffalo and the City of Buffalo School District through the loss of revenue that they would otherwise receive. These are communities that are hard-pressed and always looking for additional revenue."
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said "We have cut the property tax rate for the last seven years in Onondaga County in the last seven years, and during this same period of time we have had to make a lot of hard decisions. But the only reason that we have been able to do that is because of our sales tax. So now there is a proposal to finally return some of the revenue that we have lost to Internet transactions so we can fund our programs and we can fund these mandates. But the state, instead of taking their piece of the revenue to fund the AIM program is saying to the counties, you've got to use yours to pay the towns and villages. This proposal should be defeated and the state should properly reinvest in local governments through revenue sharing."
Putnam County Executive Maryellen Odell said "Putnam County already devote most of our property tax revenue to fund state mandated programs and services. This proposal would now take a share of our sales tax revenues to fund the State AIM program. Every time we take one step forward in local tax relief, the state forces us two steps back with a new mandate or cost shift."
Rockland County Executive Ed Day said "This state budget includes a number of cost shifts, new mandates and reduction in reimbursements to counties. I have it made it clear to our local representatives that if they sign off on anything that increases costs at the local level they are going to own any tax increases. The state loves to create new programs but they have no understanding of the costs attached to them it, and they have no understanding that we, at the county level, have to deal with budgeting under a tax cap."