YONKERS, N.Y. – Last week I joined mayors from New York State’s largest cities to testify before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee in Albany. My message was simple: We need a renewed partnership from the State and an increased investment in our City and our schools.
Over the last three years, we’ve been able to balance our budgets without cuts to services and without breaking the property tax cap. Three years ago, the unemployment rate in Yonkers stood at 9.1%. Today, at 5.6%, unemployment is at a 78 month low, home sales are up and Yonkers is the second fastest growing big city in the state. We’re attracting new jobs to Yonkers, breaking ground on projects big and small, and working in a bipartisan manner to move our City forward.
Though we’ve accomplished a lot, we still face many challenges. When I came into office, all seven of the City’s municipal labor unions were operating under expired contracts, and no money was set aside to settle with our workforce. Today, we’ve adopted or reached agreements with six unions. And while our workforce agreed to concessions to help ease the burden on taxpayers, the cost of settling contracts will still place a strain on the City budget.
So this year I asked the State Legislature to increase funding for the Aid and Incentive for Municipalities program, or AIM, which is down significantly from 2009. I recognize the progress Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have made in limiting state spending to 2%, which is consistent with the property tax cap. That’s why I’m asking for a 2% increase in AIM for this year, plus an additional 2% for each of the last four years that AIM has been cut or kept flat – a total of 10% which equals about $10.8 million.
Last year, as many of you are aware, the State came to the City’s aid when it was discovered that the Yonkers Board of Education budgeted for and spent $55 million in state spin-up aid that had not been allocated by the Legislature. In the aftermath of the school district error and as part of the solution, the State authorized the City to consolidate non-academic services with the Board of Education, and provided $28 million in funding to help close the school district’s gap. It’s critically important that the State maintain that funding commitment again this year.
Finally, I testified on the state of our public school buildings – quite possibly the single biggest school infrastructure crisis in New York. Nearly one-third of our schools were built before 1920; half before 1940. But the City does not have the ability to build new schools on its own. Why? Because Yonkers is fast approaching its constitutional tax limit, meaning that even if we wanted to build just one new school – and we need many more than that – we couldn’t afford the debt service on the construction. At the same time, the State has financed school reconstruction programs in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, even as those school districts shrink while Yonkers grows rapidly. So, beginning this year and working with our State Delegation, I will ask the Legislature to pass a ten-year, multi-phase school reconstruction act for the City of Yonkers. It’s time to rebuild Yonkers schools.
To read my full testimony before the State Legislature, visit www.yonkersny.gov/2015testimony
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