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Ridgeway town supervisor gets chance to sound off on state policies

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 August 2013 at 12:00 am

Napoli will be speaker on state panel about ‘Fiscally Distressed Municipalities’

Photo by Tom Rivers – Brian Napoli, the town supervisor in Ridgeway, has been invited to speak at a state public hearing Thursday in Buffalo about fiscal challenges facing local governments.

RIDGEWAY – Many local officials often bemoan the impact of state regulations and mandates on budgets at the village, town, county and school levels. Officials may pass resolutions, stating their concerns about the state driving up costs.

Many officials will grouse about the state, casting blame on “downstate.”

In the town of Ridgeway, Brian Napoli will fire off letters to the state officials. He has developed a reputation locally and in state circles for some of his strident objections to state policies. On Thursday, the Ridgeway town supervisor gets a chance to speak directly to state officials during a public hearing in Buffalo at the City Hall.

Napoli has compiled “a short list and a long list – of all the things the state has done to us.” He will share a condensed version during a hearing on “Fiscally Distressed Municipalities: Preparing for and Preventing Municipal Bankruptcy in New York.” The State Senate’s Committee on Local Government is having the hearings around the state.

Napoli gets five minutes to speak at the hearing. He will also submit a written report, which so far totals 14 pages.

State legislators have passed policies that strained local governments, including the tax cap. The law limited local government to annual increases of about 2 percent in taxes. However, the state didn’t ease state mandated expenses, including pension contributions that typically exceed the 2 percent cap.

With the cap in place, municipalities can’t raise taxes enough to meet increased costs. That has forced local governments including schools to eat into their reserve funds and make staff and program reductions. Napoli worries about the long-range impact of the tax cap without meaningful reductions in state-mandated expenses.

Napoli won’t just launch an attack about state policies, including environmental regulations that have proven costly to Ridgeway. He wants to press the state to be an active partner in helping the rural economy. He said Ridgeway would be doing better economically if the state helped bring Broadband Internet to the community. High-speed Internet access is critical to attract and keep businesses.

The state also needs to allocate more funding to rural roads and bridges, especially the canal communities, Napoli said. Agriculture is the biggest business in town and some farmers have land on both sides of the canal. However, bridges may be closed or have weight restrictions.

“Our farmers can’t get across the bridges,” Napoli said. “It hinders ag development.”

Without adequate infrastructure for the Internet and big farm equipment, Napoli said the community won’t reach its potential.

Thursday’s public hearing at Buffalo City Hall begins at 11 a.m. in the Common Council Chambers on the 13th floor.