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A Third of WNY Governments "Fiscally Distressed"

11:46 PM, Feb 4, 2013   |    comments
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CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. -- Following a statewide property tax cap that has left some Erie and Niagara County communities feeling the crunch, Governor Cuomo is proposing a measure that could help ease the pressure.

The measure would limit union raises to two percent for local governments in financial distress, provided they enter into binding arbitration.

WEB EXTRA: FULL LIST OF WNY "DISTRESSED" GOVERNMENTS FROM OUR WATCHDOG JOURNALISM PARTNERS AT INVESTIGATIVEPOST.ORG

Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz said she thinks the proposal could help municipalities like hers, which is one of 23 local communities that are on the "distressed list."

"We were saying with two police contracts not settled, and we kept extra money in our funds set aside, because we didn't know what was going to happen," she said. "I mean, you go to binding arbitration and we're asking for two percent, they might give them three, four or five percent. You just don't know what's going to go through with binding arbitration."

Governments qualify as financially distressed if their taxes are in the top 25 percent in the state and their reserves make up less than five percent of their operating budget.

Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Lackawanna, Tonawanda, North Tonawanda and Lockport are all on the list, making up all of our major cities. Many towns are on the list as well, including Cheektowaga, West Seneca and Tonawanda. Twelve local villages are on the list as well.

But Supervisor Holtz said state and federal aid cuts are partially to blame for the finances of the distressed areas.

"You can't take money out of the communities, tell them to keep a 2 percent cap, and then say lower your taxes and then call you fiscally distressed," she said.

The Town of Cheektowaga was fortunate. Holtz said it recently negotiated most of its municipal contracts and got by with a two-percent increase without arbitration.

"[Two percent] is a good mark, because of the two percent cap, Holtz said. "And in this day and age, a two percent raise is a pretty good raise."

Other cities, towns and villages are still in talks with their unions.

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