Clock Is Ticking For Mandate Relief

Only in New York state can a city lose $268,000 and consider the year a financial success.

That’s the case in Jamestown.

Rather than have a huge tax increase, Mayor Sam Teresi and council members used $755,000 from the city’s surplus to balance the 2012 spending plan. Department heads all they could do – using overtime only when necessary and keeping spending to a barebones level. A mild winter helped keep public works costs down. A slew of unanticipated retirements also helped the city, as higher-wage workers were replaced with workers at the lowest levels of the city pay scale. Despite being $544,000 under budget, Jamestown still operated at a deficit.

It didn’t help the state required the city to pay nearly $1 million more into the pension fund in for its employees in 2012 than in 2011. State aid was decreased in the 2012 budget by $90,000 from 2011 levels. Had those numbers stayed the same, Jamestown would have been able to post a 4.31 percent tax levy decrease in 2012.

That’s why it is so disappointing to see inaction and hand-wringing on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s two proposed mandate relief items. As we wrote Tuesday in this space, binding arbitration reform that would cap public safety union awards at 2 percent wasn’t included in the state Assembly or Senate budgets. Its place in the 2013-14 state budget is murky at best at a time when Jamestown is in the midst of negotiations with the police officer and firefighters unions.

No one knows if Cuomo’s pension smoothing plan, which would allow local governments and schools to spread out the spikes in pension costs over 25 years, will be approved by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli or the New York State United Teachers. Cuomo’s plan has many critics, but there are no other ideas being discussed.

The fact there aren’t other plans being publicly discussed is unacceptable. Jamestown has proven, without a shadow of a doubt, struggling cities across the state can’t make it in the best of years without some sort of mandate relief.

Gov. Cuomo showed leadership in passing his 2 percent tax cap. Now, he needs to show leadership to deliver meaningful mandate relief in the 2013-14 state budget.

The clock is ticking.