2017-01-18 / Opinion

Will Mandates End Local Governments?

By Rosie Cunningham

NEW YORK - Free tuition sounds great. A new fire truck for a municipality does as well; mandates on social services do too, and all of those “free attorneys” for those who fall within a certain poverty line.

However, none of these additions to the counties are free. They are in fact, at the expense of each county, not to mention they are mandated. In other words, they are required.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo discussed each idea recently, along with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders to help announce the free tuition plan — he was dutifully questioned by the media about how he intended to fund these initiatives. Each time, he gave the same response: “in the state budget.”

However, it’s not in the state budge, it’s in the budgets of the towns and counties that all of these wonderful “additions” derive from.

According to Masonville Supervisor Michael Spaccaforno, county mandates are responsible for as much as 80 percent of the annual budget.

Our state leaders see an opportunity to score points with voters by taking on the issue of the day by establishing legislation to address that problem, but wording it in such a way that the service must not only be provided by county or local government agencies, but paid for by those agencies, as well. So, when it’s time for you or your child to collect that free tuition, the local property tax bill increase is what covers the cost.

“In 2014, Delaware County had about $80 million worth of unfunded mandates,” said Spaccaforno. “That number has only gone up. “In my mind, the towns and counties should only be responsible for public safety -or, most importantly. But, that is not the case. I am a business man by trade and I always have a reserve and the rule of thumb is you shouldn’t tap into it. But, how can you run a town with low funds and not go into the reserves. Towns are in physical stress - we don’t have enough money to fix infrastructure or purchase that new salt truck and that to me, is a public safety issue. Soon, we won’t be able to meet public safety needs.”

State leaders don’t want to be the face of increasing taxes in any way, shape or form. They can run to their constituents — especially during campaign season — and point out all the wonderful things they’ve done for you without raising your taxes one penny.

But this is clearly not possible when it comes to crunching the numbers.

According to the New York State Association of Counties website, comparisons are made with all of the states charge counties for unfunded mandates. In 2013, the percentage of unfunded mandate money has increased by 15 to 20 percent.

According to Spaccaforno, Cuomo brings up the topic of shared services among towns.

“Can you see Delhi’s highway department asking to borrow Hamden’s plow truck?” Spaccaforno asked. “Cuomo is extremely political for his own benefit. If he really wants to cut taxes, he should stop spending on all of these insane policies he keeps initiating. I am sure his plan is to have a universal state government at some point.”

Visit to see more about state mandates and the cost to the counties.

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