Yonkers budget proposal includes layoffs, 3.72% tax hike

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. (April 11, 2012)

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. (April 11, 2012) (Credit: C. Nance)

Layoffs of Yonkers city workers, police officers and firefighters, 5 to 10 percent across-the-board department cuts and a 3.72 percent property tax increase for city residents.

Those painful proposals are included in Mayor Mike Spano's preliminary $937.8 million budget for next fiscal year to offset a projected $89 million deficit.

"These are very difficult choices, but ones that have to be made," Spano told city council members on Monday. "Given the difficult economic times, as well as the need to remedy the unsound fiscal practices of the past, this budget confronts the unavoidable reality of reducing the city's workforce."

Under the tax increase, the average resident's bill would increase by $295 next fiscal year.

Spano's budget, his first as the city's mayor, calls for shedding at least 112 jobs, including 37 police officers, 26 firefighters, 34 public works employees and seven parks and recreation workers.

Spano also would trim 10 percent from the mayor's office budget and maintain a hiring freeze in effect since he took office in January. The spending package is $2.7 million less than the fiscal year 2012 budget and closes the city's existing $6 million budget shortfall, Spano said in his presentation.

The proposed property tax increase adheres to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent tax cap, which lets municipalities exempt significant decreases in property values and other factors from the calculation, the mayor's office says.

Councilman John Larkin, the board's Republican minority leader, said the council will review the mayor's proposal in coming weeks and hopes the public safety cuts can be offset by other spending reductions.

"The devil is in the details," he said. "Hopefully we will be able negotiate with the unions to alleviate some of the layoffs and cuts."

Det. Keith Olson, president of the Yonkers Police Benevolent Association, which represents more than 600 rank-and-file officers, said the city's police force is already undersized from previous budget cuts.

"We're going to work through this and hopefully get the number of layoffs down to zero," he said.

Unlike previous city budgets, the proposal includes no cuts in education funding. In fact, the budget would boost the city's contribution to educational funding by $2.6 million.

Last week, a special commission appointed by Spano estimated the city's budget deficit next year at $89.3 million, a figure that may cumulatively exceed a half-billion dollars over the next four years.

The group, led by former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch and former Assemb. Richard Brodsky, estimated the budget deficits will reach $102 million in 2014, $150 million in 2015, and $210 million in 2016.

Ravitch and Brodsky, both of whom have experience fixing big-city financial problems, rapped Yonkers for lacking a long-term budget plan, which they said has added to the city's fiscal instability.

Two days after the report was released, Spano issued an executive order requiring the city to present a multiyear budget outlook to the council beginning next fiscal year.

Spano, a Democrat and former state assemblyman who took office in January, has attributed most of the projected revenue shortfall to rising pension costs, state mandates and declining tax revenues.

But he and other city leaders also have criticized the use of "gimmicks" such as loans and other short-term bridges that have failed to get the city's debts and operating costs under control.

Both Ravitch and Brodsky said one option going forward is to place the city under a state control board, which would have the power to circumvent union contracts and other financial obligations to cut costs.

Yonkers was under the watch of a control board from 1975 to 1996. Because of past financial problems, the state comptroller's office still has to review the city's budget before it goes into effect on July 1.

Copies of Spano's proposed budget can be found on the city's website: http://www.yonkersny.gov/

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