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Upstate mayors outline daunting fiscal challenges

Mayors from some of the state’s largest municipalities testified before the budget committees, part of the annual event known as Tin Cup Monday. While much attention was given to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his request to levy a tax on his city’s wealthier residents, other mayors from around the state had one simple request. More money.

After New York’s rock star mayor left the room - taking most of the press corps with him - one by one mayors from Buffalo, Syracuse, Yonkers, Albany and Rochester all made their case to the legislative committee.

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano says the state needs to provide an additional funding source for cities that are losing population.

“To help cities deal with the cost of education, deal with the cost of taking care of the quality of life services in our cities and at the same time that recognition will help give our kids a better quality of life and a better path towards success.”

Spano highlighted Yonkers inability to competitively fund its public schools. He says the suburban districts in Westchester County spend far more per student and therefore graduate almost 100-percent of their students. Yonkers he says lags far behind with a 72-percent graduation rate.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan also made the case for more financial support. She says while the tax breaks for the nano-tech business has been a boon to the capitol region, her city has struggled because of it.

“The businesses that are here are paying a disproportionate share of the tax burden to the amount of property they occupy and are home owners. We own 28-percent of the tax base in the city but we pay 58-percent of the tax bill.”

She says 80-percent of Albany’s commercial properties are off the tax rolls and the city needs help raising its revenue without driving business and people away.

Poverty was a running theme through the testimony of all of the upstate mayors. Many of them have populations struggling with chronic unemployment and disadvantage. Unlike the New York City powerhouse; they don’t have a thriving industry to make up the difference in revenue.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren says she was disappointed that the AIM program - or Aid and Incentives to Municipalities – hadn’t increased because parts of her city are suffering in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression.

“We are actually fifth in the nation in childhood poverty and so you at once have this vibrant and vivacious city that has seen a decade of decline and we need the state to recognize it’s not just about who we once were. We can get back to that but we need some help to do that.”

Legislators will continue holding hearings on Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal until the April 1st deadline. The governor is pushing lawmakers to pass an on-time budget for the fourth year in a row.

WMHT/Capital Region Reporter for the Innovation Trail