State shortchanges villages with aid, leading to their demise

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 January 2014 at 12:00 am

Editorial – Small cities receive significantly more in state aid than villages of comparable size

I stumbled across the numbers by accident last week, numbers that show what appears to be a glaring state-sponsored economic discrimination against the villages in New York.

I was on the state Division of Budget website looking for the state aid to school districts on Wednesday. Before I found the school numbers, I clicked on “Aid and Incentives to Municipalities,” also known as AIM. I hadn’t seen those numbers before in my 17 ½ years as a reporter.

I was curious. I checked our local villages and was surprised how little they get – only about $100,000 for the four villages in Orleans County with about 15,000 people total.

I know that Albion (population 6,056) and Medina (population 6,065) are bigger than some of the cities in the state. So I looked up how much the state gives the city of Sherrill, the state’s smallest city with 3,071 people in Oneida County. $372,689. Wow. I thought maybe it was a fluke.

I looked up another small city, Salamanca in Cattaraugus County. It gets $928,131 for a city of 5,815 people.

I grew up in Chautauqua County and I know Dunkirk and Fredonia are similar in size, separated by a couple miles. Dunkirk is a city with 12,563 people. It gets $1,575,527 in state aid. Fredonia is a village with 11,230 people. It gets $89,140 in AIM funding.

City (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Salamanca (Cattaraugus) $928,131 5,815 $159.61
Dunkirk (Chautauqua) $1,575,527 12,563 $125.41
Batavia (Genesee) $1,750,975 15,465 $113.22
Sherrill (Oneida) $372,689 3,071 $121.35
Norwich (Chenango) $1,089,279 7,190 $151.50
Waverliet (Albany) $1,210,193 10,254 $118.02
Cortland (Cortland) $2,018,330 11,183 $180.48
Beacon (Dutchess) $1,537,478 15,541 $98.93
Gloversville (Fulton) $2,302,592 15,665 $146.99
Johnstown (Fulton) $1,388,910 8,743 $158.86
Canandaigua (Ontario) $1,119,304 10,545 $106.15
Geneva (Ontario) $1,942,613 13,261 $146.49
Rensselaer (Rensselaer) $1,137,317 9,392 $121.09
Mechanicville (Saratoga) $662,392 5,196 $127.48
Ogdensburg (St. Lawrence) $1,708,659 11,128 $153.55
Village (County) State aid Population Per Capita
Albion (Orleans) $38,811 6,056 $6.41
Medina (Orleans) $45,523 6,065 $7.51
Holley (Orleans) $17,786 1,811 $9.82
Lyndonville (Orleans) $6,251 838 $7.46
Brockport (Monroe) $110,171 8,366 $13.17
Fredonia (Chautauqua) $89,140 11,230 $7.94
East Aurora (Erie) $50,569 6,236 $8.11
Le Roy (Genesee) $34,391 4,391 $7.83
Geneseo (Livingston) $72,701 8,031 $9.05
Whitesboro (Oneida) $73,012 3,772 $19.36
Cobleskill (Schoharie) $36,461 4,678 $7.79
Massena (St. Lawrence) $132,671 10,936 $12.13
Potsdam (St. Lawrence) $111,864 9,428 $11.87
Bath (Steuben) $103,906 5,786 $17.96
Monticello (Sullivan) $46,903 6,726 $6.97
Newark (Wayne) $65,833 9,145 $7.20

Source: New York State Division of Budget for state aid in 2013-14 (2014-15 numbers are proposed to be the same in governor’s budget.) Population is from U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 population count. Orleans Hub calculated the per capita numbers.

I spent a good chunk of the weekend with these numbers. Most larger villages, with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 people, get less than $10 in state aid per person. Small cities, with 3,000 to 15,000 people, get about $100 to $180 per person.

Many of the larger villages like Albion and Medina function much like a city. They have full-time police, street departments, water and sewer services, cemeteries, etc. Medina also has a paid fire department. The bigger villages should be getting far more in state aid.

If Albion and Medina received comparable aid as similar-size cities, it would make a dramatic difference in the taxes in these villages.

If the two got Salamanca money – $928,131 – that would be about $875,000 more in aid for each village.

The Village of Albion has a $6.3 million annual budget, which includes police, streets, Mount Albion Cemetery, parks, and the costs for running water and sewer plants, as well as other services. The village is struggling with a shrinking tax base and falling property values. Real estate agents say the high tax rates in the villages are driving residents into the countryside where the tax rates are much less. For many residents, you can save $1,000 a year simply by moving outside the village lines and escaping the village tax.

The village taxes are high partly because there is so little state aid to help with the cost of services.

The village of Albion has a tax rate of $16.86 per $1,000 of assessed property. Albion will collect $2,419,975 in village taxes in 2013-14. If the village received what Salamanca gets in state aid, Albion’s village taxes would be cut by a third. A smaller tax bill would make the village more inviting for residents, and would pump up the property values.

Medina raised its tax rate from $15.82 to $16.45 in 2013-14. The village is taking in $2,722,442 in taxes this year. That could also be cut by nearly a third if Medina was treated like Salamanca.

I urge the local villages to raise hell about this disproportionate system for doling out the aid. The local villages should contact the other villages across the state and colloboratively complain to the state legislators. Bring a unified voice to the issue. Our County Legislature should stand with our villages and demand a fair share of state aid for the villages.

Maybe the villages don’t provide 100 percent of the services that cities do. So it may make sense to have different classifications for giving aid to villages. Perhaps a tiny village with no police, no paid fire, and less than 1,000 residents would get 25 percent of the average aid of a city. (That would still be a significant increase from what they’re getting now.) Lyndonville might fall into this category. The village does hire a constable for some police protection.

The next level at 50 percent of the city rate might be villages like Holley, with 1,000 to 3,000 residents. Holley has a police department that is staffed mostly with part-timers. It has a water and sewer plant. It provides many services you expect in a city.

I would put Albion in the 75 percent rate category. It doesn’t have a paid fire department, but has full-time police, and its own water and sewer plants.

I think you can make the case that Medina deserves the full 100 percent of a city share. It has a paid fire department, the only village in the county with that paid service.

I encourage the villages to make a lot of noise about this, and state their case for more funding. They should point out how the meager dollars from the state have hurt the villages, resulting in huge tax rates, an exodus of residents and falling property values.

The state’s AIM funding totals $714 million a year but it is nearly consumed by the cities. The three big upstate cities of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse get $161.3 million, $88.2 million and $71.8 million, respectively.

Buffalo, with 261,310 people, receives an average of $617.21 per person. In the village of Albion, which feels a lot like a city with some of the urban wear and tear, the state aid amounts to $6.41 a person.

The villages should find out why they’ve been shafted by the state. If the state refuses to give them more money, I urge the villages to become cities, and perhaps expand their geographical boundaries to maximize their aid.

It’s time to fight. The villages need and deserve this money.