WMOA President Bill Hanauer Speaks at Press Conference on 2% Tax Cap in Albany

Stop Albany from Taking our Power Press Conference, May 23, 2013

The Westchester Municipal Officials Association (WMOA) is an organization of, and for, the 45 cities, villages, and towns in Westchester County, uniting local government officials by providing a forum to study issues of mutual concern and to take action on such issues that will have a beneficial effect upon the public safety, health and welfare of our members’ citizenry.

There is a theme that runs through the budget deliberations of the Boards of each of our member municipalities. That is, while the imposition of a 2% cap per annum on the increase in the tax levy allowable to fund programs and personnel and, while the is cap presumably meant to help municipalities become more cost effective and efficient, it, in conjunction with the many other unfunded State mandates, has only made it more difficult and, in some cases, impossible to deliver the services that local governments exist to provide.

North Salem has lost 19% of its workforce, has reduced police funding by 20%, and has been forced to eliminate brush and leaf pickup; the City of New Rochelle is down 40 Police Officers, 20 Firefighters, and several DPW workers by attrition; the City of Peekskill, has laid off police; the cities of Yonkers and White Plains, both Police ­and Firefighters; the Town of Bedford has not replaced 2 DPW workers, and, despite budget cuts and increases in fees — a most regressive tax in itself — and 0% wage increases for three years, Bedford has twice been forced to exceed the cap in order to fund a major infrastructure project: a new water filtration plant; the Town of Mamaroneck has cut its staff by greater than 5%; the Town of Bronxville by 2 Police, 3 DPW workers and an administrator; and the Village of Tarrytown has cut its Police Dispatcher and a Clerk. These cuts have consequences.

In the Village of Ossining, where we overrode the cap in 2012, but not in 2013, the imposition of a 72% increase in Police Retirement System contribution rates over the last three years and a 55% increase in Employee Retirement System rates in that same period, has led to the elimination of 16.5 positions, with 2.5 more remaining unfilled. Contribution rates are imposed by the State, not determined by local government; not bargained collectively with employee unions. Were it not for the steep increases in contribution rates, Ossining’s increase in the levy would not have exceeded the 2% cap in 2012.

Concurrent with the Cap, although General Municipal Law, Sections 207-A and –C provides for the issuance of disability pensions for paid firefighters, and for police, if they are shown to be permanently disabled, the State, disregarding the reports of municipalities and independent physicians, is not forthcoming in its issuance of the disability pensions; and, while keeping those officers off of its own payroll, leaves them as burdens on the municipalities. Cities, towns and villages, in order to continue to pay these officers, must, therefore, cut active first responder positions or lose those positions by attrition. Remaining officers, once assigned to community policing, or walk and talk, for instance, are reassigned. Often their safety and security is then called into question. With so many communities cutting back, some joint Inter-municipal Police taskforces have also been disbanded.

State Courts have mandated the elimination of years of backlog of certiorari cases, using an approach detrimental to municipalities. Judges are forcing municipalities to settle all cases, regardless of merit. To address these extraordinary costs, in the last two years, the Village of Ossining has had to bond $1,400,000, while, at the same time, experiencing a decrease in assessment roll of $2,120, 000.

The members of Westchester Municipal Officials Association have lobbied for relief, as has the NY Conference of Mayors, NYS Association of Counties, and the NYS Association of Towns, to no avail. That is why we have joined Stop Albany from Taking our Power.