In a bi-partisan effort to avert severe cuts to the Yonkers Public Schools that would result in 700 layoffs, the Yonkers City Council voted 6-1 early Wednesday morning to ask the State to create a Transitional Finance Authority (TFA). The Authority would refinance some of our existing debt resulting in a $20 million reduction in our operating costs for next fiscal year. While deeply concerned about deficit financing, the Council approved a version of a TFA that differs from the mayor's version in that it has tighter financial controls, places the entire council on the authority's board and has the State enact a wage freeze for all municipal employees. The wage freeze would go into effect when the bonds are issued and end when they are repaid. The legislation is now being reviewed, considered, and will hopefully be enacted by the governor, state legislature and the comptroller.
The TFA recognizes that "a condition of fiscal difficulty exists in the city of Yonkers , as a result of a weakened local economy, a decrease in real estate values and reductions in state aid to education." The TFA implores the state to act favorable towards the agreement reasoning, "….the city is in a state of fiscal crisis, and that the welfare of the inhabitants of the city is seriously threatened. The city budget must be balanced and economic recovery enhanced. Actions should be undertaken which preserve essential services to city residents, while also ensuring that taxes remain affordable. Actions contrary to these two essential goals jeopardize the city's long-term fiscal health and impede economic growth for the city, the region, and the state."
Our priority has been, since this proposed budget was delivered to us, to help the Yonkers Public Schools, but we did not want to give this mayor, nor any future mayor, an unlimited credit card to continue to spend recklessly. By limiting the amounts the TFA can refinance to reasonable steps to reduce municipal expenses, we will instill good fiscal procedures without losing local control.
While union members have vowed to challenge this responsible legislation that saves jobs and gets our house in order, I expect the state legislature to do the right thing and work to make sure this is passed. Anything short of such, without providing us the money we need, would only be another slap in the face to Yonkers .
After all, it was only several weeks ago that they placed the city in further jeopardy by significantly under funding our schools with the budget they passed.
I also want to thank the thousands of men, women and children who contacted me and my colleagues over the last few weeks to voice their concerns. You truly helped to shape this important debate and your actions were nothing less than an example of democracy at work. Many of you argued, and I agree with you, that the proposed cuts to the schools were unfair to our city's children and would result in extra costs for parents – far in excess of the money saved in this year's budget.
In a separate piece of legislation, the Council unanimously passed an annual maximum cap on overtime that can be earned by each municipal employee to $20,000 per year.
The passage of this cap on overtime occurred a day after the Journal News once again issued a feature article on overtime and pension padding that this time focused on the city's first retiring police officer to earn more than $300,000 in one year (a combination of salary, overtime and other benefits).
The Council voted unanimously to support the overtime caps in order to enforce the accountability of managing the city's departments with the commissioners and the mayor. The mayor will now be required to issue quarterly reports to the council of any mayoral-approved deviation from the overtime caps. Council members have repeatedly sided with taxpayers and agree that like everybody else on a fixed budget, the City has to stop spending money that it does not have and cannot continue to ask the taxpayers for more and more.
As the legislation works through Albany and the mayor finalizes his projections for next year, we can expect the mayor to submit a revised budget to the Council next week that includes a fiscal plan to utilize the savings from the reduction of labor costs and the proceeds of the refinancing to help save some of the education programs. Ultimately, the Yonkers budget and the TFA must be certified by the state before it can be implemented.
Click Statedelegation@gmail.com to contact your state legislator.
Chuck Lesnick is the Yonkers City Council President. He is a Democrat. He is running for the Office of Mayor of Yonkers.