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Letter to the Editor

January 15, 2015
Westfield Republican

Dear Editor,

As mayor of the village of Westfield, I feel compelled to address some of the misinformation being put out about our local governments.

During his 2014 re-election campaign, Governor Cuomo claimed that New York's high property taxes were due to the waste and duplication of New York's "more than 10,500 local governments." Not only is his contention incorrect, the Governor also failed to acknowledge the role the State has played in exacerbating this property tax problem.

First, according to recent numbers released by NYCOM, the 10,500 number is grossly overstated. There are only 1,613 cities, villages, towns and counties in New York and 715 school districts. The remaining 8,000 or so entities are primarily special districts created as a line in a budget to help apportion the cost of specific municipal services to those people that receive the service. In fact, New York is well below the national average for the number of local governments per 1,000 residents. The Governor can and should single-handedly reduce by 65% the number of our local governments by simply using the accurate number.

Additionally, since 2008, the average annual spending increase by cities was only 1.4% and 0.8% by villages well below the State's expenditure growth. Those percentages are a far cry from inefficient and wasteful.

Finally, take a look at the fiscal discipline we have shown here in the Village of Westfield as compared to the state's spending. In 2010, when Governor Cuomo first took office the state's operating budget was $85.7 billion, this coming year's budget is projected to be $92 billion. That's an increase of over 7% in less than 5 years. Here in Westfield in 2010, our general operating budget was $2.369 million and last year it was $2.308. That's a decrease of $61,000 or 2.6%. To break our spending down even more, compare our decrease in spending of $61,000 with the increase in pension and health benefits. Our state pension costs, paid from the general fund, have gone from $101,398 to $189,357 and our health insurance, paid from the general fund, has gone from $140,641 to $180,879. That's an increase of 87% and 28% respectively.

The village of Westfield, like all of the surrounding local governments, continues to look for more ways to share services. The village currently has shared service agreements with the Town of Westfield that include; equipment and labor costs being shared by our highway departments, shared code enforcement, shared tax assessor, shared fire department, shared municipal facilities, shared police, shared local development corporation, shared historian, shared youth recreation, shared fuel dispersing, and many shared community services. We also collaborated with the Town of Ripley, the Village of Brocton, the Village of Mayville, and the Town of Westfield to purchase a sewer cleaning vac truck, a sewer cleaning trailer, code scanner, wire reel trailer, and an asphalt roller to just name a few.

And what has the state's role been in all of this? The last increase in State aid ("AIM funding") for local governments was in 2008-09, and since that time AIM funding to cities, villages and towns has decreased by 14% in real dollars. Additionally, relief from costly state mandates, as was promised when the property tax cap was implemented, has been virtually non-existent.

So I ask you, who is really to blame here? Instead of pointing fingers, focusing on rebate checks, and disparaging local governments and the economic growth they help generate, it is time for the State to realize that it does have a role to play an important role to partner with local governments and help us continue to do what we do best: provide essential municipal services in the most cost-effective manner.

Then, instead of the blame game, we can all take credit for the long overdue revitalization of our communities and our state.

Michael VandeVelde

Mayor, Village of Westfield



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