From the Mayor: Report on New York State from the Mayors' Conference; Legalization of Recreational Cannabis Discussed Print


By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville

Feb. 27, 2019:  I spent part of last week in Albany at the annual mayors' conference to get a grasp of what was happening at the seat of government and its possible effects on Bronxville.

The experience was quite worthwhile as a primer on our state in general, much of the information courtesy of talks by Attorney General Letitia James and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Sadly, New York State is two very different states – one Rockland County and south and the other “upstate.” As illustration, many of my upstate colleagues’ number-one priority was dealing with the proliferation of “zombie homes” – empty residences that have been abandoned and/or taken over by squatters, decreasing the value of entire neighborhoods. Currently, there is no time limit for banks to execute foreclosure proceedings, so homes are left desolate for years on end. One colleague was so frustrated by their blight he had their DPW board up all the windows and doors at taxpayer expense.

State Overview

  • Unemployment statewide is at 3.9% vs 9% during the height of the recession, with 975,000 more jobs added than were lost during that same period. However, 90% of the newly created jobs are in the counties from Westchester and Rockland south. Many upstate counties saw the unemployment rate decrease locally because people simply left the job market.

  • The direct municipal aid to 400 New York villages including our own was not reinstated. Nine of the ten villages in “fiscal stress” lost all their state aid.

  • The average property tax in New York is $22,000. As a result, many residents are impacted adversely by the SALT cap of the $10,000 property tax deduction.

  • The state has an unanticipated shortfall of over $2 billion in expected tax revenues.

  • North of New York City, 58.3% of properties receive some level of tax exemptions.

  • New York State receives 90 cents in return for every dollar it sends to Washington. The average return to states is $1.19 with only New Jersey and North Dakota having a less favorable rate of return than New York.

  • New York State has never had a municipal bankruptcy, but 37 communities (2.5%) and 14.5% of counties are in “fiscal stress.”

  • New York, via the attorney general’s office, has 200 pending lawsuits against the federal government, many of them directed at the EPA.

  • The New York State pension fund has an all-time high value of $207.4 billion, though it lost $197.3 million in the month of December. The Pew Research Institute rates our pension fund in the top four nationwide with assets at 90% plus needed funds for the 1.1 million people in the system.

  • Currently, the state treasury is holding $14 billion in unclaimed funds with over $468 million returned to taxpayers in fiscal year 2018. (We at the village had $140.00 found and returned!!)

  • The last time the citizenship question was asked on a Census was in 1950. In 2010, 69% of New Yorkers responded vs a 76% response nationwide. Only 61% of New York City residents answered. Census responses not only could help staunch the loss of any more congressional seats but the data is also used as a matrix when dealing with health emergencies. As example, when Long Island City had a massive measles outbreak about a decade ago, Census numbers were used to calculate the needed number of vaccines, resulting in a major shortfall of needed medicine.

  • The one piece of potential legislation of most concern to mayors that was laid out in the governor’s executive budget was the legalization of cannabis and the corresponding retail outlets, resulting in the creation of an entirely new government agency, Department of Cannabis Management.

  • As written, the legislation would legalize recreational cannabis for those 21 and older. County governments can opt out and prohibit any cannabis operations in their respective counties. If a county does not opt out, cities within having a population of 100,000 may opt out independently. (Yonkers is the only qualifying city in Westchester.) Communities such as ours would have no say save promulgating zoning regulations that meet a nebulous standard of “regulations that do not make the operation of dispensaries unreasonably impracticable.”

Last week, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and the Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association announced their opposition to the legalization of recreational cannabis.

  • They cited data from Colorado where drugged driving rates have more than doubled, insurance rates have increased, and local governments are forced to retrain entire police departments and police dogs and increase security near these establishments. At present, the projected revenue of $83 million in FY2021 will not be shared with any local governments.

  • Representatives from Massachusetts recounted their recent experience with legalization. Statewide, the legislation passed 53% to 47% in a public referendum, so the issue remains very divisive. Local communities can ban implementation but need a two-thirds voting majority. From the date of enactment of legislation to retail operation takes from 18 months to two years.

I will be watching the path of this legislation very carefully as the legislative year progresses.

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