Some Long Island officials say a proposal from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo encouraging counties and municipalities to adopt shared services plans would threaten state aid and ignores the work they already do to find savings.
“The Governor doesn’t seem to be aware how local municipalities work together to reduce operating costs,” Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard wrote in a January 30 letter to State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “Local governments are not the cause of excessive property taxes.”
Richard Smith, the mayor of neighboring Nissequogue, was similarly critical: “I believe some of this is posturing under the cloak of fiscal conservatism.”
Cuomo has called for county executives to formulate plans for municipal savings by eliminating duplicated services, coordinating expensive purchases or sharing expensive items like emergency equipment. Each plan would go to a countywide referendum in November. If voters don’t approve the plan, counties would have to revise and go to the ballot again next year.
Counties and municipalities will continue to get aid from the state whether or not they create and follow through on their plans, state officials say.
However, Cuomo’s executive budget would make the entire package of state aid to municipalities — some $715 million in unrestricted funds known as Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM — contingent on the State Legislature’s approval of his proposal this spring.
Cuomo, speaking recently to reporters in Binghamton, described his proposal as common sense: “We have never come up with a uniform plan where we’ve sat down and said, ‘What services can we share to save money?’ ”
In a statement late Tuesday, a Cuomo spokeswoman said the governor “has restored fiscal responsibility to the state – reducing costs for taxpayers and providing more than $3.2 billion in mandate relief by eliminating the local share of Medicaid. Regardless, this shouldn’t be an excuse to prevent local governments from coming together and developing a plan to further ease the property tax burden — something both the state and the taxpayer have done for quite some time.”
The prospect of losing AIM funding, however remote, “sends fear down the spines of local officials,” said Peter A. Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials. The proposal was the “hottest topic” among the roughly 150 officials who attended NYCOM’s winter legislative meeting last week in Albany, he said.
Some had practical concerns over the referendum called for under the proposal, he said. Voters who object to a consolidation policy for one municipality could doom the entire county’s plan, he said. The referendum would also give voters from across an entire county authority over municipal policy.
Locally, some officials who have chafed for years under Cuomo’s tax levy cap also criticized the new proposal. “Municipalities have not gotten an increase in aid for nine years while continuing to provide quality services under a state-mandated tax cap,” said Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino, former president of the Suffolk County Village Officials Association.
Babylon Village already has service agreements with the local school district for security, garbage pickup and road salt, he said, as well as agreements with Babylon Town.
Flanagan, addressing the NYCOM conference last week, framed the proposal in terms of governmental overreach: “I don’t know that we need the state of New York coming in and saying, ‘By the way, this is what you have to do, and if the legislature is recalcitrant, you’re going to lose your aid funding,”
Head of the Harbor received just $4,134 in AIM funds last year, a tiny fraction of the village’s $1.9 million budget. Nissequogue received $5,209 and Village of the Branch $6,888. Smithtown Town received $671,178.
Head of the Harbor already shares a part-time building inspector with the two other Smithtown villages, Nissequogue and Village of the Branch, wrote Dahlgard, who, like other Head of the Harbor trustees, does not receive a salary. The village shares a treasurer with Nissequogue and a deputy treasurer with Nissequogue and Port Jefferson.
The village also saves money by using Town of Smithtown Highway Department fuel and materials contracts, he wrote.
Not all local officials were critical of the governor’s proposal. Cuomo “has done an excellent job of curtailing burdensome taxes on the people of New York State,” Smithtown Deputy Supervisor Tom McCarthy said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also endorsed the plan, and a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement that Mangano “supports the concept of reducing municipal expenses to save money for taxpayers.”