Batavia town supervisor blames New York State for municipalities' dire financial outlook
The financial world in which Town of Batavia leadership has governed in recent years has come to an end, Supervisor Gregory Post said Thursday.
“I have never in my wildest dreams thought I would have to use my ‘apocalypse bankroll’ that we have put together for the town in case of whatever potential disaster might come down the road,” Post said. “You put it there and plan for it – making sure that if the worst possible thing you could imagine happens, you could at least have some time to come up with a solution.”
Post and the Town Board have about five weeks to draft a preliminary budget for the 2021 fiscal year that begins in January, and projections at this point paint a bleak picture.
He said the current financial situation is the worst he’s seen in his 47 years in government, and he places the blame squarely on what he calls the “tax and spend” policies emanating from Albany.
“The people need to hear this. This is not a result of some COVID-19. The COVID-19 didn’t cause this,” Post said. “Nelson Rockefeller (New York governor from 1959-1973) started this and it has been getting progressively worse with each elected governor and Downstate politician for the last 45 years. So, here we are.”
Post said the board is struggling to figure out what the town’s tax increase is going to be for next year.
“We already know what our expenses are going to be – we can’t cut anything. We have been essential and lean as long as we have been. There’s not a lot of service that we can cut,” he said. “We only have three people in the highway department, including a highway superintendent who is making a quarter of what other highway superintendents make. It’s a part-time job for that.”
He said New York State is “probably going to be drastically short of money next year,” estimating a state deficit of $10-14 billion.
“But the thing is when we started out this year, the state was over five billion dollars in the red and the governor has the opportunity to change his reimbursement schedule and the percentages,” he said. “And he’s already reduced it by 20 percent, and I would not be surprised if it goes to more.”
Post said he expects significant reductions in revenue sharing from Genesee County, noting that the county is “going to have to come up with somewhere between $6 and $9 million that they weren’t anticipating having to come up with, and they don’t have any other means to do that (other than cut or end revenue sharing with towns and villages).”
'Well, the State is Broke'
“It’s not a failed policy of the county or the towns or the villages, it’s a failed policy of a progressive state that has been taxing and spending since Rockefeller,” Post said. “The state has never put a limit on the spending, programs and being progressive. If you look at the consequences, and I’m serious when I say this, but every smart owner of a business that I’ve done any work for in the last 30 years says the same thing – this can’t last; the state cannot keep doing what it is doing, or it’s going to go broke. Well, the state is broke.”
The supervisor also said he doesn’t foresee the federal government bailing out the state.
“That means that the state reimbursements to all the Upstate counties are probably not going to be there,” he predicted. “I think you’re going to see whatever they do have funneled to the state education department, because that is sacrosanct, and I think the counties are going to be left to hang in the wind. The counties will have no choice but to pass those reductions in revenue onto the towns and villages. Pretty much the consensus of the supervisors that I talk to is that we’re all looking at a double-digit tax increase.”
Even if a federal stimulus bill is approved with money appropriated to the New York State, it will just be a “Band-Aid” – not a long-term solution, he said.
“What about next year? Without some completely restructured reforms on these mandated expenses that counties have to pay, it’s going to snowball,” he said. “They tell the counties how many probation officers per criminal, how many people you have to have in the Department of Social Services, how many employees to dedicate to this and that. You have to do that or they won’t send you any funding."
Genesee County as 'Lean' as Can Be
Post gave Genesee County officials high marks for keeping things together during an arduous stretch.
“The county is running as lean as a county can run – too lean, in my opinion,” he said. “They haven’t funded their highway operations to the degree that they need to in order to keep up with the maintenance of the highways and the bridges. They haven’t raised the taxes because they can’t bust the (tax) cap. They refinanced everything they can refinance. And they’re managing their cash better than almost any other county in the state.”
He said that while he doesn’t fault the county, “they’re the ones getting blamed by all these local communities.”
“The sales tax money that used to just come (revenue sharing) was like a welfare check, and that’s not going to come next year. It can’t. I don’t think anyway it could come to the same degree that it has in the past,” he said.
Post said the county is unable to raise property taxes without “busting the tax cap and losing all the state reimbursement, so they’ll need the sales tax.”
“The county has been spot-on and has given us every single dime in matching funds that they’ve received on a pro-rated basis,” he said. “They have done a fabulous job, but I cannot count on New York State for next year. I would hate to be (County Manager) Matt Landers and this county legislature right now.”
Town Taxes Likely to Increase
As far as the Town of Batavia is concerned, Post said two-thirds of its total revenue comes from county revenue sharing.
“I’m probably looking at a pretty significant tax increase,” he advised. “We’ll try to not use the unexpended fund balance and we’ve already tried to cut $750,000 in spending out of this year’s budget. I thank God that the town board has worked as hard as they have worked to make sure that we have a cushion going into next year.”
Post said that using $1 million out of the unexpended fund balance to expand the Town Hall is off the table at this point.
“We’re going to try not to use that, but save it and put it towards the consequence of this state’s actions next year,” he said, adding that he plans to keep the Town Hall lobby closed and operate remotely – one of many actions being taken to cut costs.
He said he feels bad for the half-dozen town supervisors that are in their first year.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like for them,” he said. “It has gotten worse and worse every year, and we all shrug our shoulders and work harder to keep it going. But this thing is going to cause a lot of people to rethink wanting to serve in office or be involved in government ever again.”
In a couple developments from the Batavia Town Board meeting on Wednesday:
- Sandra Baubie, deputy town clerk since 2004, was promoted to the full-time job of water bill collector at a rate of $25.89 per hour, while Sara Sauka moved into the full-time deputy town clerk position at a rate of $21.63 per hour.
Morgan Leaton was hired as a full-time court clerk at a pay rate of $17 per hour.
Post said Baubie’s previous duties had include water/wastewater billing, but with four times the number of accounts to handle, it made sense to create the water bill collector position.
- The board approved submitting applications for Community Development Block Grants from the state Office of Community Renewal to support two dairy production projects at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park and set a public hearing on the matter for Sept. 2.
Post said he wasn’t willing to speculate on the nature of the projects since he has yet to see anything in writing. It was previously reported that HP Hood officials plan to construct an addition to the plant’s refrigeration warehouse unit.