By Laura Palisano Hackathorn
“Mandate relief” has been a catch phrase in New York State for decades. Every two years, when our state legislative delegation runs for re-election, the candidates promise “mandate relief” as part of their agenda.
And every two years, after the November dust settles, the serious and substantive discussions this issue demands are relegated to their usual place – the “wait until next year” file.
Local governments can’t afford to kick the mandate relief can down the road. That is why the all important mandate relief conversation remains in the forefront at town, village, and school board meetings across the state.
Take my hometown, the Village of Hamburg, for instance. Next year our pension obligations will jump more than 16 percent, and our workers’ compensation costs are up 35 percent over the last three years. Hamburg – and the taxpayers of the village – simply cannot afford these cost increases.
This issue isn’t unique to the Village of Hamburg; local leaders, from Cheektowaga School District administrators, to Town of Tonawanda officials, are speaking out against the unfunded state mandates that are sinking their budgets, and inflating their tax rates.
In the Village of Hamburg, we’ve tried our best to streamline services and keep taxes low – but there is only so much to cut. We’ve also found ways to innovate, trying new approaches to solve problems and smarter solutions to delivering services. The village is revitalizing Main Street, an investment in our local infrastructure that will grow our commercial tax base.
We are aggressively pursuing outside sources of funding – such as state and federal grants – that help return village taxpayer dollars directly to our community. Yet the costs of unfunded mandates are still outpacing both our savings and our growth.
Albany has sent some positive signals when it comes to mandate relief – but substantive action has not always followed the campaign rhetoric.
Local governments are doing their part. Despite all the challenges we’ve faced, the Village of Hamburg adhered to the new state limitations on property tax increases and we continue to explore ways to make smart investments, like the Main Street project that helps us grow our tax base without taxing middle class families out of their homes. Now it’s time for our state legislators to do their part.
Unfunded mandates have always been a political football. But take it from this local official – it’s not a game that we can afford to play any longer.
Laura Palisano Hackathorn is a lifelong resident of the Village of Hamburg. She has served as a village trustee since 2004.