YONKERS, NY — In a bi-partisan effort to avert the elimination of pre-K and full-day kindergarten along with other cuts to the Yonkers Public Schools, the Yonkers City Council early Wednesday morning voted 6-1 to link the City's ability to restructure its debt through an amended form of the mayor's proposed Transitional Finance Authority (TFA) and promptly sent the new legislation to the state legislature for its approval.
The TFA requests Albany to recognize 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.”
The TFA compromise agreement approved by the Council will need to be adopted by the state legislature, and, when passed, will freeze wages for all municipal and board of education employees as soon as the city refinances its current year debt in the upcoming month. “Our priority has been, since this proposed budget was delivered to us, to help the schools, but we did not want to give this mayor, nor any future mayor, an unlimited credit card to continue to spend recklessly," said Council President Chuck Lesnick, a candidate for mayor himself.
"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. It was only weeks ago that they placed the city in further jeopardy by significantly under funding our schools with the budget they passed. I would hope they not do it again,” Lesnick added.
Education Chair Wilson Terrero remarked, "The proposed cuts to the schools were unfair to our city’s children and would have resulted in extra costs for parents far in excess of the money saved in this years budget. The thousands of men, women and children, including bilingual parents and students, who contacted us and voiced their concerns before the Council during the past month truly shaped this debate. This was truly democracy at work"
The Council did not call for a control board that might have relinquished some local autonomy but rather requested action by the state to address the current fiscal crisis in a responsible way. If enacted by the state, the legislation would limit the amount of money the City can refinance under this stop gap measure to coincide with steps the City will take to reduce its structural deficit. In addition, the City asked the state to impose a wage freeze to help the city fix its structural deficit.
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 occurred in the same week that 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). By linking the deficit spending to wage freezes, the unions have an incentive to come to the table voluntarily and stay at the table. The wage freezes only kick in when the city refinances its debt and stays in effect only until those loans are paid off.
Additionally, if there is alternative cooperation from our labor members that result in greater savings we will not have to utilize this mechanism at all. 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. They 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. The amended TFA legislation will now be sent to Albany where it will be assigned bill numbers from legislators in each house who will carry the bill.
Once the state crafts its version of the TFA bill, it will return to the Yonkers City Council for a home-rule message. Following such it is presumed the state legislature will approve the bill during one of its remaining legislative sessions and send to the governor for his signature. At the same time, the Mayor is expected 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.
While the City Charter calls for the budget to be approved by June 1, the state comptroller will not approve the same until all revenue sources are certified, including the final approval of the TFA. Source: Office if the Yonkers City Council President.