Thank you to Governor Cuomo and the Mandate Relief Council for allowing me the time to speak on the topic of mandate relief for municipalities. We are heartened that this administration recognizes the need for reform, and encourage this committee to recommend necessary changes that will assist local governments with the fiscal challenges we are currently facing.
The City of Amsterdam, like other cities, towns, villages, counties and school districts across the state, is heavily impacted by mandated costs that we have no control over. It is widely recognized that skyrocketing pension and health care costs only throw small governments into turmoil, as we must then look to eliminate personnel, equipment, projects, and programming to balance our precarious budgets. Cutting our operational lines will not remedy the escalating, annual expenses that far exceed our revenues.
Our city is a member of the New York Conference of Mayors, which has made a number of recommendations regarding mandate relief. I have forwarded the publication, “You Can’t Cut What You Can’t Control”, which had been authored by the Mayoral Task Force on Mandate and Property Relief in December 2010. The stance taken by this group is as comprehensive as it is intelligent and creative. I encourage each of you to read its contents closely and to courageously advocate for adoption of its recommendations.
As Mayor of the City of Amsterdam, a couple of specific mandates not addressed in the referenced publication have caused extreme difficulty in these trying economic times. We are faced with a large number of dilapidated buildings that are in need demolition. The cost of demolition is excessive because of state mandated requirements for asbestos removal, which includes certifications, notifications, air monitoring, specialized equipment and removal fees. We are paying upwards of $30,000 to demolish dilapidated single-family houses valued at $200. Large industrial complexes may cost as much as a million dollars or more to take down. Because of the condition of these substandard structures, the city has had to bond for millions of dollars to shoulder the cost of these actions, which increases our debt and tax burden into the future. Relief from these mandates would allow us to aggressively remove blight and tend, instead, to economic development, which in turn would build our tax base.
A second point of concern for our city is the cost of separating storm sewer lines from our sanitary sewer collection system. Even though the cross connection problem has been a condition that had existed since the system was installed and the effect of mandated actions on the environment may be minimal, we are forced to incur immediate costs in the way of assessment, planning, engineering, design and construction in the face of an economic down turn. This is another mandated action that will require bonding and cost millions of dollars. Recently, the DEC had imposed a building moratorium on the City of Amsterdam and surrounding towns because of these issues. Its duration was brief, thanks to the intercession of the Governor’s Office (again, I thank the Governor for his support in this instance), but the implications of this mandate should be noted. If New York is to be truly “open for business”, governmental agencies must work in tandem to make our state responsive to the needs of flourishing commercial interests.
To that end, cost/benefit analysis must be applied to policy changes. The fundamental question that must be answered in any mandated situation is whether or not the mandate clearly addresses an important need of society. To impose mandated actions without a clear benefit produces economic inefficiencies that drive up costs to the point where our state is no longer competitive in the global theater. The extraordinarily difficult economy offers a unique opportunity for our state legislative bodies to make brave decisions that tackle our most complicated – and politically charged – costs, and finally change the way state and local governments conduct business. On behalf of my constituents, I wish the Governor, this Council, and our State representatives the courage necessary to champion our best interests and great success in this endeavor.