February 24, 2020 - Mayor's Column

The State budget process is well underway as Governor Cuomo has unveiled his 2020-21 Executive Budget which is the template for all initiatives and resulting spending.

I have reviewed the documents and culled the following proposals that will have the most impact on Villagers both individually and in the upcoming budget.

Most critical is the fact that the executive budget does not include any specific proposals to address the state-wide concern regarding the criminal justice reforms.  Not only do many of the initiatives in the bill passed in the last legislative session affect very legitimate concerns about safety, but there will be a huge impact on the upcoming Village budget in the neighborhood of $150,000 plus just to meet the discovery and new documentation requirements.

Coupled with this unprecedented unfunded mandate is the decision not to increase unrestricted State dollars to municipalities, happening for the eleventh year in a row despite the enormous new monetary burden placed on local government.

Of great potential impact is the Executives Budget proposal to legalize recreational cannabis.  County governments and cities with a population over 100,000 are granted the authority to opt out, but Villages such as ours could not.  In addition, though three levels of taxes are going to be levied on the industry, none of the money flows to local governments.

The whole issue is compounded by the facts that as yet there is no test, like the breathalyzer, to detect driving while impaired and the character change possible in a downtown when dispensaries are situated next to local businesses catering to children and family needs.

The Executive Budget would also legalize the operation of E-bikes and E-scooters for individuals 16 years of age and older.  Based on the legislation, they would be permitted on every street in the Village, save for dedicated school zones.

Of great concern state-wide is language in the budget that would establish uniform procedures affecting the siting of small wireless facilities, furthering the goal of the industry to eliminate all local oversight of wireless siting decisions on municipally owned and controlled rights of way.

Money has been added to the budget to support water and wastewater infrastructure though the needs far exceed the appropriation and in the past, the appropriations have been limited to those communities experiencing an emergency, thereby penalizing proactive communities such as ours.  The hope would be that any funding going forward would be based on the amount of pipelines and mains owned by a municipality so as to incentivize communities to invest in their aging infrastructure.

Some other smaller in scope but impactful proposed initiatives include:

Ban On Styrofoam – State wide ban on all uses except for pre-packaged food that is sealed prior to delivery or Styrofoam used to sell raw meat or fish.

Mother Nature Bond Act

A three million dollar bond that would require approval via state referendum, the proceeds would be used to make environmental improvements to preserve and restore the state’s natural resources and reduce the impact of climate change by funding projects to restore natural habitats, protect open spaces, reduce flood risks and improve water quality.

Union Disclosure

Provisions in the budget would allow public employers to provide the personal information of new hires to a union without fear of constituting an unfair labor practice. The proposal supports the notion that access to this private information will ensure that unions remain up to date on the local government’s new employee hires.

Public employers would also be mandated to provide union access to their new employee orientation process.

Manual Election Recounts

The State Election Law would be amended to require county boards of election to conduct manual recounts of ballots from any general, special or primary election in the following circumstances: if the margin of victory in a state-wide election is 0.2% or less of all ballots cast; in any other election for public office including Village elections if the margin of victory is 0.5% or less.

STAR Credits

The Executive Budget provides that no STAR credits or exemptions be granted to property owners with delinquent taxes.

Court Restructuring

Following the suggested changes promulgated in a September 2019 report, the State’s Court of Claims, County Courts, Circuit Courts, Family Courts and City Courts would be abolished.  In lieu of them, the State would create a new type of court called a Municipal Court, which along with the State Supreme Court, would handle all of the cases handled by the former courts.

Criminal Justice Reforms

While the Governor did not advance specific proposals to address the now widespread concerns regarding last year’s Criminal Justice Reform legislation, he noted that reform is an ongoing process and that he and the Legislature need to respond to relevant facts pertaining to implementation issues.

The above take on great importance since there is one part control and it is that of the Governor, the odds increase quite significantly that the above mentioned initiatives will be approved and codified in some form by the end of the session.