The state Assembly’s Westchester delegation heard a long list of requests last week for additional money and the restoration of funds for various initiatives from local officials throughout the county and representatives of organizations.
During a Jan. 31 budget hearing on the governor’s executive budget at Greenburgh Town Hall, speakers raised a litany of issues, including the need for more money to improve state roads, greater equity in transportation and education funding and calls for the tax cap to be 2 percent or the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is higher.
Mamaroneck Town Administrator Steve Altieri said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget that cuts Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) funding runs counter to limiting property taxes. Mamaroneck would lose about $142,000 a year, money that would have to be recouped through property taxes or the elimination of services.
“Municipal services shape the quality of life in the community and are designed to provide for a safe and comfortable environment,” Altieri said.
Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner said his town stands to lose more than $400,000 in AIM, which represents a 1 percent tax increase.
But Feiner saved his sharpest comments for the state’s abandonment of maintenance of state roads. He called the condition of Route 9A “an embarrassment” and portions of Route 100 and Route 119 aren’t much better. Feiner agreed with Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti’s suggestion for the state to give local governments a fee to repave state roads in their jurisdiction because the Department of Transportation stopped improving most its thoroughfares about four years ago.
“Some of our roads are so bad that milling and repaving won’t do the trick. The roads have to actually be rebuilt,” Feiner said. “Greenburgh roads that are state owned are in such bad shape that it probably will be cost prohibitive to do all the repaving in one year.”
He said he would support a state bond issue, which would probably be needed to address the spiraling cost of road repairs that are needed.
Another transportation related issue saw Naomi Klein, the county’s director of planning, ask for a greater increase than the proposed 7.2 percent across-the-board hike for downstate non-MTA transportation systems.
Klein said the Bee-Line Bus System is the second largest transportation system in the state behind New York City, carrying 27.3 million riders a year. However, Nassau County receives about $12 million more a year in aid than Westchester.
“This glaring disparity must be addressed and if we can … it will reduce the burden of funding the bus system that currently falls to the taxpayers,” Klein said.
Pat Puleo, a Briarcliff Manor resident and president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, urged legislators to change the tax cap to 2 percent or the rate of inflation under the CPI, whichever is higher, and to repeal the 60 percent supermajority approval requirement for exceeding the cap. Instead it should be a simple majority.
Puleo said she and her colleagues are also irked that charter schools operate under more lenient rules.
“We’re handing them a lot of our money,” Puleo said. “Maybe it would be nice if we had accountability (from them). Maybe if they had to live by the same rules the rest of us do – transparency and accountability.”
Meanwhile, Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association Executive Director Lisa Davis also called for the same change to the to the tax cap formula because school districts and municipalities need to be certain what their revenues are going to be over the long term.
She said the current limits are unsustainable, particularly when the regional CPI was 0.12 percent a few years ago. That year seven of the association’s districts had a negative cap.
Davis also said while the proposed increase in foundation aid in the 2019-20 executive budget may be 3 percent statewide, it is inadequate that the Westchester-Putnam region is scheduled to see just another 0.25 percent.
“This will really affect our programs and services and we do see an increase in diversity within our populations and we need to be able to address their issues,” Davis said.
A similar hearing will be held by Westchester’s state senators this Friday afternoon (Feb. 8) from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Greenburgh Public Library, located at 300 Tarrytown Rd. in Elmsford.