Village leaders need to let Albany know about funding disparity

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 January 2014 at 12:00 am


They showed up in force in Albany on Monday, in what has become known as the annual “Tin Cup Brigade.” Leaders of cities with big problems: shrinking tax bases and populations, and rising costs for pensions, employee benefits and mounting infrastructure needs. The mayors of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Yonkers and New York City all demanded more help from the state.

“Let’s make this the year that the state steps up to the plate when it comes to investing in public safety at the community level,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said at a joint legislative hearing about the state budget. “Let’s make this the year when we start to make our cities strong and truly livable again.”

The mayors painted a picture of despair – deteriorating neighborhoods and loss of businesses and residents – while also sharing hope that the cities would be stronger with more state funding.

They were hammering at the Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, a program that provides $715 million in state money to cities, villages and towns. The cities already get the lion’s share of that money – far more in per capita dollars than the towns and villages. (Click here for an Orleans Hub article on Monday detailing the disparity.)

‘The main problem for these villages is a state government big on lectures and mandates, with no money to back it up.’

Most small cities get between $100 and $200 per person. In villages of similar size, the per capita aid from the state generally ranges from $5 to $10. Big cities get even more per capita. Buffalo, the second biggest city after New York City, gets $617 per person.

Orleans Hub wrote about this glaring inequity on Monday. That was also the day the Assembly and Senate held the joint hearing in Albany about local government.

I’ve tried to find out why the cities’ per capita aid is so much more than villages, despite their comparable services and comparable problems. I still haven’t got any good answers.

But I think the main reason may be the mayors of the cities aren’t afraid to ask for the money. They go to Albany and demand it.

The same hearing on Monday didn’t include a mayor from a village. (Click here to see the list of speakers.) The city leaders also were on the radio and television, trying to make their case for more money. I don’t think the state legislators realize how unfair the state aid sharing is, and I don’t think they know the depth of distress in the villages. No village voice is heard in Albany, advocating for these places.

The big cities are led by professional politicians making six-figure incomes with huge staffs to draft speeches and line up media appearances. The villages have mayors who typically are working other full-time jobs. These mayors make less than $10,000 a year. They don’t have assistants. They drive themselves and don’t have security.

The state legislators should insist on hearing from some of the mayors from these upstate villages.

Warren, the Rochester mayor, noted that her city gets less per capita than others, including Buffalo. However, at more than $400 per person, Rochester gets far more per capita than the $6.41 for village of Albion residents.

I agree with this statement from Warren: “Let’s make this the year that we work together to come up with a needs-based AIM aid formula that provides equitable assistance to all.” That should apply to the villages as well as the cities, Mrs. Mayor.

Orleans Hub’s editorial on Monday detailed the unfairness in state aid per capita for cities versus villages. Small cities get far more than villages, despite functioning in largely the same ways. However, the cities get about 20-to-1 more in aid per capita.

Take the city of Salamanca, population 5,815. It gets $928,131 in state aid or $159.61 per person. The village of Albion, population 6,056, gets a measly $38,811 or $6.41 per person. The village of Medina and its 6,065 residents get $45,523 or $7.51 per person.

I’ve had trouble sleeping since discovering the state-sponsored discrimination against the village people over the weekend. I’m so angry and outraged about it, knowing that fair treatment from the state would have prevented some of the devastation in these upstate villages.

The state has been shafting these communities, leading to their demise. If the villages, many with full-time police and myriad of other services, were on par with cities like Salamanca, we would have much different places. They would be much healthier places with smaller tax rates, updated infrastructure and higher property values. It wouldn’t feel like these places are falling apart.

‘Fair treatment from the state would have prevented some of the devastation in these upstate villages.’

Many of those familiar with upstate villages will recall grander, more prosperous days. I often hear people reminisce about Albion as “the place to be.” Yes, we have lost major industries, and the loss of well-paying jobs has hurt these communities.

But the state’s feeble aid has been a dagger in the heart. It’s year after year of neglect and indifference. And the governor has the gall to lecture these places that he rarely sets foot in about controlling expenses and reducing layers of government.

The main problem for these villages is a state government big on lectures and mandates, with no money to back it up.