I was recently fortunate enough to greet NYCOM members, state representatives and staff at our Legislative Priorities Meeting in Albany. It’s always a thrill for me to be with my compatriots. I am inspired by their resilience, fortified by their ingenuity, and buttressed by our combined numbers. We represent of 12 million souls. We are STRONG.
This is important because we, at the local government level, are under siege.
Local governments are being blamed for the skyrocketing tax burden in NYS. This leaves most of us incredulous. We skimp, we save, we slash and we’ve shared for decades to bring our budgets in at the bare minimum and yet, the finger of adversity points at us, the leaders at the local level, and demands that we do more, that we some how wring more out of our already depleted departments and smile as we do so. March in step! Tow the line! Chant the rhetoric that plays so easily to the masses.
Well, that’s not our job.
Our job, as mayors and elected officials, is to provide services and opportunities to our residents as effectively and mindfully as we can. We may have been elected into the political sphere but our jobs are grounded in the daily operations of our municipalities. We are intimately familiar with each potholed street, water main break, sewage overflow, rusty swing set, graffitied wall, abandoned home, lumbering shell of factory, and neighborhood of need. Our everyday existence is one of problem solving, hand holding and sometimes even baby sitting. And we do this all at very little cost.
So, we feel a real sting when these accusations are made. We are proud of our prudent spending and constant self-assessments. That “shared service” is being presented to us as a “new” concept is ludicrous. We invented it.
We must counter the narrative that local governments are spendthrifts with the truth.
The facts show that local governments are the most effective and responsive governments in the world. In NYS, most manage to stay within the recently levied tax cap/freeze and still provide much needed services to our constituents. Unfortunately, this structure is not sustainable. We cannot freeze revenues when our costs go up, sometimes by double-digit percentages.
The inherent financial dysfunction in this state cannot be addressed by squeezing the life out the hearts of cities, town, and villages. We cannot cut our way to prosperity.
Unless we cut our costs.
This is where we must speak with one voice, the voice of 12 million of the 19 million voices in NYS. We have “needs”, not “wants.”
We NEED the quick response of our state representatives to provide the tangible mandate relief promised to us. NYCOM has presented real analysis and workable relief solutions for years, shedding light on answers that skirt controversy while being thoughtful and innovative.
As the most neglected entities in state budgets, local governments NEED meaningful investment in municipal infrastructure so that our communities can sustain safe and heathy environments and support future growth. We NEED a long-awaited increase to our AIM and CHIPS allocations.
We have behaved so well for years, waiting with our empty bowls, but it is time to insistently and in unison voice our needs for “more, sir.”
Finally, this is the message that the state needs to hear: don’t make us the enemy. Be our heroes! Working collaboratively should be a readily attainable goal for all of us, not just for those of us with local zip codes. We must set aside political alliances and work together across the state to overcome the adversity we face. We must work together with urgency and creativity so that local communities thrive.
Ultimately, local governments are not the problem, we are the solution. Rebirth of this state will happen along our beautiful main streets and waterfronts, in our schools and in our historic neighborhoods.
I am certain that the future of this state is one that will be prosperous. The question is, how long will it take? I believe, like the Governor, that it can be sooner than later if we ALL pull together in one direction.