Editorial: Here’s a resolution that every elected official in Orleans should support
Fair funding from state could turn around villages
It’s a new year and elected officials in Orleans County can begin on a unified front, giving a strong voice to one of the main causes for the decline in the local villages, which are shedding tax base and residents while gaining run-down and vacant houses and aging infrastructure.
The villages are starved from state aid, and that lack of money has driven tax rates through the roof and forced villages to scale back on services, projects and their workforces. It’s a grim situation as a shrinking tax base and population tries to keep pace with failing infrastructure and provide many critical services to an aging and poor population.
If these villages had decided generations ago to be cities they would likely be in far better shape, with lots of state aid and greater share of the local sales tax. (Some say they should just become cities now, but the state hasn’t allowed a new city since the 1950s.)
It’s a perfect storm for these villages that are on the bottom of the food chain with few dollars trickling down from the top layers of government. The bill lands in the lap of senior citizens and many low-income families who stay within the village boundaries. People with more money tend to move outside the villages, where there is more land and a smaller tax bill – and village services nearby.
The state has propped up many of the cities – large and small – giving them anywhere from $100 to $600 a person in AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities). The city mayors, who are paid enough as mayors for it to be a full-time job, press state officials and will show up in Albany demanding more in AIM. And the state will often gives them the money.
But if you live in a village you won’t even get $10 per person in aid.
Orleans Hub has written extensively about this funding disparity, and still no municipality has sounded the alarm, passed a resolution demanding fairness or got on the phone with the governor. Click here to see a previous article that lays out the funding disparity.
Consider that Albion (population 6,056) and Medina (population 6,065) receive $38,811 in AIM funding and $45,523, respectively. Sherrill, the state’s smallest city with 3,071 people in Oneida County, gets $372,689. Salamanca in Cattaraugus County is nearly the same size at Albion and Medina. Salamanca gets $928,131 for a city of 5,815 people.
If Albion and Medina received what Salamanca did in state aid, the two villages could cut their taxes by about 40 percent. No longer would these villages be near the top of the list for most oppressive tax burdens in the Finger Lakes and Western New York.
With a fair share of state aid, our village residents would have a few hundred dollars more to spend each year in the local economy. They could better maintain their houses. Their homes would be worth more.
As the village assessments fall, that shifts more of the town, county and school tax burden to properties outside the village, where the assessments are growing. Stabilizing the village tax bases or seeing them grow is in the best interests of the town, county and schools because it would ease the tax shift to residents outside the village.
That’s why the towns, county and schools should join with the village leaders and push for a fair formula for AIM funding from the state. The situation is particularly dire in Orleans because we don’t have a city. We don’t have one densely populated place where the tax rates are reasonable.
Our village leaders have tried to keep down the tax rates, but you can only do so much without any state assistance. That has left lots of work undone with our parks, streets, sidewalks and infrastructure. It has created an inferior environment compared to cities (look at Batavia with its spray park, streetscape and other improvements).
The villages have had to make do with less for a half century. It shows. And our village residents still pay a huge tax bill.
The local officials have showed unity for a cause before. In 2013, all of the towns and villages joined the County Legislature in passing a resolution calling on the repeal of the SAFE Act. Last year they were all united in seeking more state funding for roads and bridges.
In 2015 they should all demand fair state funding for villages with the AIM program.
Here is sample resolution that the local boards are welcome to use or tweak. (But please get on the record with this soon because the governor and state legislators have an April 1 deadline to pass a budget.)
RESOLUTION No. 1, January 2015
WHEREAS, New York State provides $714 million in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities each year, and 90 percent of that goes to upstate cities;
WHEREAS, the AIM funding per capita is $277 per city resident and only $7 for residents in towns and villages;
WHEREAS, there are 549 villages with a combined population of 1,918,032 in New York State, including four (Albion, Holley, Lyndonville and Medina) in Orleans County with a population of 14,770;
WHEREAS, many villages wrestle with the same problems as cities, with aging infrastructure, blighted housing, abandoned commercial sites, brownfields and increased crime rates;
WHEREAS, villages are similar to cities with a high concentration of senior citizens and low-income families;
WHEREAS, villages mirror cities as centers for culture, civic and religious life, especially in rural counties;
WHEREAS, villages are like cities with many important community structures – churches, courthouses, schools and other public buildings – that do not pay taxes, shifting the tax burden for those sites to other residents in the village or city;
WHEREAS, the state’s tiny share of AIM funding for villages has put villages at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining businesses and residents;
WHEREAS, the huge disparity in AIM funding between the cities and villages is a form of state-sponsored economic discrimination, resulting in much higher tax bills for village residents and a diminished quality of life;
WHEREAS, the erosion of the village tax base has shifted a greater burden of town, county and school district tax burden outside the village, punishing the outside-village residents as well;
WHEREAS, the high tax rates in the village encourage suburban sprawl and development of green space and farm land for housing tracts, industrial parks and “Big Box” stores;
WHEREAS, village residents are no less a New Yorker than a city resident;
WHEREAS, the Legislature/Town Board/Village Board/Board of Education, call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to adopt a fair formula for sharing AIM funding so village residents can enjoy municipal services and their homes without being taxed to death.
RESOLVED, that the clerk of the Legislature/Village Board/Town Board/Board of Education shall forward copies of this resolution to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Senator Robert Ortt, Assemblyman Steve Hawley, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, and all others deemed necessary and proper.