State recently held a roundtable discussion with mayors from the seventh senatorial district including Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin, Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro and Mineola as well as New York Conference of Mayors Deputy Director Barbara Van Epps at the .
The downturn in the economy in recent years has affected local villages. Mayors and village trustees are trying to maintain services that residents are accustomed to receiving while, at the same, time keeping tax increases to a minimum. With expenses continually rising, villages have had to watch every dollar as they continue to budget responsibly.
Among the issues the panelists and Martins discussed were the tax cap and . The panelists pointed out that it will be difficult for villages to continue to meet the tax cap in light of ever increasing costs and mandates placed on local governments. Senator Martins pointed out that the tax cap legislation includes a mechanism that allows village boards to with a 60 percent majority of the board or three out of five board members.
With the tax cap in place, Sen. Martins and the panelists also discussed mandate relief. One significant mandate being placed on all levels of governments is public pension costs. For fiscal year 2013-14, the average contribution rate for the Employee Retirement System will increase from 18.9 percent to 20.9 percent. The rise in contribution rates is directly tied to the financial markets. Sen. Martins and the panelists discussed the idea of flattening pension rates so that local governments know each year what the contribution rates will be instead of being saddled with increases of over 20 percent.
While the governor and the legislature worked together on a Tier VI for public pension, public employers will not see immediate savings as the new tier, which has employees contributed higher rates to their pensions, applies to new employees. However, local governments are in need of relief now.
“Since 2001, pension contributions by state, local governments and schools shot up from $368 million to $6.6 billion,” Martins, who chairs the Senate Standing Committee on Local Government, said in a statement. “When the economy was strong, localities did not have to contribute anything to the state pension fund. However, when the stock market slumps, the taxpayers have to pay more to fund public pensions. This system is neither sustainable nor fair. Providing predictability in pension costs would provide localities and taxpayers with some financial relief in the toughest years when high pension contributions only put more strain on their budgets.”
The panelists also discussed local projects, and the need to continue to use instead of having to incur the costs of securing paper ballots if the scanner machines remain difficult to obtain.