TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – Towns and villages and Tompkins County, and across the state, may lose thousands in funding if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019-20 budget passes as is. Cuomo has proposed to cut a revenue stream called Aid and Incentives to Municipalities. Though it makes up less than 2 percent of local town and village budgets, local leaders say cuts may need to be offset by increases to property tax rates to maintain existing services.
About $400,000 in Tompkins funds are at stake, with all municipalities except the City of Ithaca affected. Statewide, AIM cuts would eliminate about $60 million in revenue to municipalities, affecting about 90 percent of towns and villages.
In Tompkins, the Town of Ithaca would be hit the hardest in terms of total funds cut. Ithaca stands to lose about $88,000 in FY 2020 if AIM funding is cut. The Town of Dryden would take the second largest hit, losing about $52,000 in revenue from Albany.
Adjusted for the size of each municipality, the towns of Groton and Ulysses would see the largest cuts as a percentage of their total budgets, losing about 1.35 percent of total revenue. All other Tompkins towns and villages get 1 percent or less of their total revenue from AIM.
Towns and villages that cover more than 2 percent of their budgets with AIM funds would be spared from cuts, but that leaves more than 1,300 localities facing the loss of a previously reliable source of revenue.
Elizabeth Thomas, supervisor for the Town of Ulysses, said the loss of AIM funds would force an increase in local property tax rates. She said the town budget is already tight, in part because the state’s revenue contributions have not kept up with inflation and rising costs for more than a decade.
“Nothing’s gonna go, we don’t have room for anything else to go,” she said of the town’s spending, “so it’s going to be a property tax increase.”
The cuts would be in line with a pattern of reducing the share of state revenue that goes to municipalities, according to Mark Witmer, supervisor for the Town of Caroline.
“The trend has been a reduction in state aid over the longer term,” he said. “It’s an issue, and we’re hoping that it won’t be in the budget.”
The Tompkins County Council of Governments unanimously passed a resolution at its Jan. 24 meeting opposing the cuts. The resolution states AIM funding “has assisted cities, towns and villages in offsetting the regressive property tax in these municipalities” and notes the state-mandated tax cap before concluding that the council “vehemently opposes the elimination of AIM to the towns and villages of Tompkins County, as well as other towns and villages in New York State.”
The resolution was sent to Gov. Cuomo’s office, as well as to the county’s representatives in the state senate and assembly.
Sen. Tom O’Mara (R,C,I – 58th), who represents the city and town of Ithaca and towns of Enfield, Newfield, and Ulysses in addition to Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties, has voiced opposition to the budget measure. In a press release, O’Mara said, “Governor Cuomo’s surprising and unexpected proposal to eliminate state revenue sharing for towns and villages puts our local governments and local property taxpayers at risk.”
O’Mara called on newly elected Democratic representatives in Albany to oppose the cuts and said, “Senate Republicans will continue to stand up and speak out for our municipalities and local taxpayers.”
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D, WF – 125th), who represents all of Tompkins County and part of Cortland County, went a step further by sending a letter to the governor calling for an increase to AIM funding.
After noting that Cuomo has proposed making the state’s 2 percent property tax cap permanent, Lifton’s letter reads, “It makes no sense to decrease state aid to municipalities while simultaneously crippling their ability to raise local revenues.”
The letter calls AIM funding “a critical lifeline” for municipalities weathering the rising costs of providing services and maintaining aging infrastructure, and said the state would be moving in the wrong direction by cutting aid to local governments.
“It is with all these factors in mind that I strongly urge a full restoration of AIM funding plus an increase of at least $60 million in this year’s final state budget,” Lifton writes.
Facing pressure from lawmakers statewide, Cuomo suggested Monday that he might reconsider the cuts before legislative budget negotiations on the issue begin.
“I’ve also been contacted by mayors and local officials who say even though it is a relatively small amount of money, in these tough times it is a big effort for them, so we’re going to be taking a second look at that in this budget,” he said at a press conference.
The governor’s budget will be debated in the state legislature in coming weeks before it is finalized.