Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be telling local governments to solve their own problems, but Jamestown officials are still looking for change.
Monday, the governor told local government leaders pushing for relief from unfunded state mandates that the state has already given them significant relief. Cuomo said he can't provide more funding for local governments because he projects a $1 billion deficit for 2013-14. Mayor Sam Teresi, however, is looking for reform, rather than a government handout.
"I tend to agree with the governor in many respects. The state is definitely not in great financial shape and is in no condition to be throwing around financial bailouts and handouts that it can't afford," Teresi said. "But, this city is not looking for a bailout or even a handout from the state or anybody else."
"What we are looking for is real, meaningful and lasting structural reform and authorization from the state that will legally allow us to restructure our operation and cut our expenses," Teresi said.
Teresi proposed many changes, including reforming the triborough amendment, worker's compensation, disability laws that currently only pertain to firefighters and allowing binding arbitration to expire. Additionally, Teresi said the state needs to allow revenue-generating abilities on the local level, so municipalities do not need to rely so heavily on "the regressive, punishing and hated" property tax.
Local governments face the same rising costs as state government in public worker pensions, health care, fuel and labor contracts. A less expensive public pension has been created by Cuomo and the Legislature, however it only applies to new hires and won't save the government money for 20 to 30 years.
"If we've got to put more money into things like retirement and all these other mandates that are not producing services, it has got to come from somewhere. It is coming from loss of services and increased taxes," Teresi said.
Jamestown has experienced a cut of 20 percent of its workforce since Teresi took office in 2000. The cuts have come from the fire and police departments, the department of public works, parks department and other departments meant to keep the city running. As a direct result of these cuts, Jamestown has experienced a loss of services for its residents.
"We're not looking for bailouts or handouts. We are looking for reforms that will allow us to restructure our operations and cut our expenses," Teresi said.
Because raising taxes is not an option for city governments, the governor said local municipalities will have to work harder to build budgets. The New York State Association of Counties estimated that unfunded, mandated state regulations and programs along with the cap in local property taxes have created a projected $130 million gap for counties for 2013.
"When he tells us to make the tough calls, as much as I am a supporter of the governor and think he's doing a great job, I think, if you look at the record of this mayor and this City Council, we have been making the tough calls," said Greg Rabb, City Council president and D-At Large. "The problem is, with all due respect to the governor, there aren't a whole lot of tough calls left to be made."
Already this budget season, council members have been discussing taking out playground equipment, because the city cannot afford the safety zones and insurance required, among other cost-cutting suggestions.
"I think when you start taking recreation away from kids, that's beyond tough calls," Rabb said. "That's just, like, unbelievable that we have to even discuss that. But everything's on the table. I hope we don't have to do that, but I don't know. Taking stuff away from kids? What could be tougher?"