Proposed state freeze on local aid upsets municipalities
ALBANY — While spending on schools and health care would increase under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget, direct aid to municipalities would be frozen.
For the seventh straight year.
“It’s absurd, it’s ridiculous,” said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy, whose village is slated to receive $901,311 in state funding again. “It’s a disgrace that New York State is not giving us additional funds.”
In his plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year, Cuomo, a Democrat, proposed keeping “Aid and Incentives for Municipalities” steady at $714 million. This includes more than $26 million for Long Island localities.
The funding freeze comes as New York is facing at least a $1.8 billion deficit as well as a potential $2 billion loss of federal aid.
The AIM fund was created in the 2005-2006 fiscal year to consolidate aid programs for the state’s towns, villages and cities, as well as minimize local property tax growth and spur shared services. It does not include New York City or counties.
In AIM’s 14-year life span, budget documents show that the funding increased steadily until 2008, froze the next year, dipped two straight years and remained flat since then.
A Cuomo spokesman contended that aid to localities shouldn’t be compared to schools but instead state agencies — which also have been kept flat.
“We’re not treating local governments any different from the way we’re funding our own state agencies,” Morris Peters, Budget Division spokesman, said, noting that municipalities can receive different state funding if they share services with other jurisdictions.
Peters acknowledged local officials’ complaints about increased education funding and said Cuomo is committed to education.
“It’s a major point of emphasis in this administration,” he said. “School funding has gone up, it will continue to go up.”
Under the governor’s proposal, Suffolk County municipalities would receive $8.1 million and Nassau’s $18.1 million — the same amounts they have been allocated since 2011-2012.
State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill), who previously served as that village’s mayor, said the state needs to think more creatively to help municipalities.
“Local governments have been sharing services, they have been keeping costs down,” Phillips said. “It’s just part of what they do. They deserve an increase in AIM funding.”
Lawmakers are supposed to adopt a budget by April 1, when the fiscal year begins.
Cuomo’s proposed $168 billion budget has a 2.3 percent increase over last year and includes a 3 percent hike for elementary and secondary education, a 3 percent jump in health care and a 14 percent increase on large capital projects.
“When you look at it as a whole, we’re not getting our fair share of the state’s revenue,” Gerry Geist, executive director of the Association of Towns of the State of New York, said, noting that municipalities often also have to deal with unfunded mandates such as the governor’s executive order last month that allowed prepayment of 2018 taxes.
Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, or NYCOM, said the freeze makes it harder to comply with the statewide 2 percent property-tax cap.
“While they are told they need to be more efficient and cooperate more, they are not given any additional resources from the state to do their jobs,” he said. “We would just like to be treated equally with schools.”
Officials also noted that Cuomo’s proposed education aid increase of 3 percent, or $769 million, alone is larger than the entire AIM allocation.
Kennedy, who is also the president of the Nassau County Village Officials Association and a NYCOM officer, said he planned to protest the funding freeze.
“We’re pounding on the drums,” he said.
The lack of an increase has kept Freeport from making some infrastructure repairs, among other things, the mayor said.
The Village of Huntington Bay is set to again receive $8,314 in AIM funding. Because the sum isn’t a lot, Mayor Herb Morrow said that even if the funding was eliminated entirely in a worst-case scenario, the village could likely absorb the loss without raising taxes.
“If it stays the same, it stays the same,” Morrow said. “If it goes down, we’re just going to have to figure out how to make it up in another place.”
The Town of Hempstead, in contrast, is slated to get $3.8 million. Supervisor Laura Gillen said AIM funding helps cover the town’s essential services.
“Costs are going up everywhere,” she said. “Obviously we would prefer it not stay flat.”