The city of Jamestown is about $1 million away from being at its maximum amount allowable for property taxes.
A report out this month lists Jamestown as one of eight municipalities in danger of exceeding the constitutional tax limit. According to a report entitled "New Fiscal Realities Challenge Local Governments" by the Office of the New York State Comptroller, Jamestown has exhausted 92.2 percent of its tax limit for 2012.
"We know what our constitutional tax limit is. I mean, we know we are at 92 percent of our taxing limit," said Joseph Bellitto, city comptroller. "It shows we have only got the ability to raise about another million dollars in property taxes, at the max. That's what the calculation comes out to."
Other municipalities listed by the state as being in danger include Cortland County, Binghamton, Gloversville, Lackawanna, New York City, Herkimer and Lyons.
Thomas DiNapoli, state comptroller, listed nearly 300 local governments as having deficits in 2010 or 2011. More than 100 of those did not have the money to pay their current bills. Additionally, DiNapoli said more governments may soon be approaching their taxing limit.
"The one part we can't do anything about is, in the calculation, it doesn't take into account the fact that we own our own municipal utility," Bellitto said.
According to Bellitto, the BPU plant is valued at $125 million, which is not factored into the city's constitutional tax limit computation. He said if, as an example, it were a Niagara Mohawk plant in place of the BPU, it wouldn't be owned by the city but would be included in the tax base. If this were the case, the tax limit would be decreased to around 80 percent.
"But, we are unique in that I think we are the only city that actually has its own owned electrical light plant," Bellitto said. "The state does not give us any special dispensation for that. They don't take that into consideration at all. So, that has a big impact on our tax limit computation. That's probably the biggest reason onto itself."
As far as being in control of the tax limit, Bellitto said the city plans to continue doing what it has been doing by controlling spending.
"We have reduced almost 20 percent of the workforce over the last 12 years. It's going to be another tough budget year next year, so the administration and the council will have to make some more tough decisions, because we will have to keep under that 100 percent tax limit," Bellitto said.
State aid has also been decreasing. Jamestown received $4.5 million in state aid this year. In 2009, it received $5 million. Additionally, the state passes unfunded mandates down to municipalities, for which they must then account.
"The state kind of needs to get their act together and increase aid back to the municipalities, at least back to where it was several years ago," Bellitto said. "It's going in the wrong direction."
A recent New York Post article announced that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DiNapoli were discussing a "super control board" that could take over the finances of counties, cities and towns on the verge of bankruptcy.
According to the Associated Press, control boards have been used since the 1970s to cut spending and make other difficult decisions in New York City, Buffalo, Troy, Yonkers and Nassau County.
"We should be talking about fixing things and stopping the crisis from happening, as opposed to coming up with ideas like super control boards to clean it up after a lot of the local governments and school districts are crashing and burning," Mayor Sam Teresi said.
Teresi used an analogy to say the state is only as strong and successful as the culmination of its local governments and school districts.
"You can't have a strong and successful neighborhood with all of the houses on the block falling apart," Teresi said, "Virtually every local government in New York state, all 62 cities, and most of the school districts are all struggling, are all financially challenged and are all in the threat in the next five years of having serious fiscal insolvencies, unless the state comes around and deals with things substantively, pre-crash."
The mayor said Jamestown would be open for any type of ideas coming out of Albany. Additionally, it would appreciate the efforts of the governor and the state comptroller to come up with approaches to help what will soon be probably most of the cities in New York state approaching their constitutional tax limits.
"Tinkering around the edges and cutting down on paperwork and loosening up a few detail-type bureaucratic regulations, is simply not going to cut it," Teresi said. "The crashing of local governments and school districts in this state need substantive transformational changes to deal with the largely state-created structural problems that we're dealing with."