County, municipal leaders blast AIM funding proposal

ALBANY — Officials aren't buying a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) funding after it suffered deep cuts under his initial proposal for the 2020 fiscal year's budget.

The Governor’s budget has proposed elimination of AIM funding for 480 villages, a vast majority of those in the state. Towns would also be impacted as statewide, 90 percent of municipalities receiving aid would lose out on roughly $59 million. A remaining $8 million would be distributed to those who still qualify, according to the State Finance Office.

The proposed cuts saw an immediate backlash from municipal officials, some of whom stood to lose substantial aid.

In Allegany County, AIM would be zeroed out from the budget for the villages of Almond (-$5,033), Andover, (-$9,072), Angelica (-$9,017), Belmont (-$7,626), Bolivar (-$15,193), Canaseraga (-$6,334), Cuba (-$11,046), Village of Wellsville (-$130,627), Town of Wellsville (- $66,000) and Richburg (-$3,950). Only the Village of Alfred would be spared in 2020, with 2019 levels of funding left intact at a rate of $201,841.

In Steuben County, AIM losses would impact all 13 Villages Addison (-$14,848), Arkport (-$6,508), Avoca (-$10,221), Bath (-$103,906), Canisteo (-$35,231), Cohocton (-$5,873), Hammondsport (-$9,760), North Hornell (-$5,303), Painted Post (-$13,648), Riverside (-$6,767), Savona (-$11,667), South Corning (-$9,641) and Wayland (-$14,246).

On Friday, Governor Cuomo offered an amendment that would restore funding. The proposal would use additional sales tax revenue from the elimination of the internet tax advantage, to keep towns and villages whole.

"The original proposal only impacted localities receiving a relatively small amount of money, but I have been contacted by mayors and local officials who say in these tough times it would still be a challenge for them," Governor Cuomo said. "That is why we are revising the executive budget to use internet sales tax revenue to make these impacted localities whole."

Within hours of the proposal, it was met with criticism from angered county officials. The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario blasted the plan for shifting the burden to counties.

"The Governor's thirty-day amendment 'fix' to earlier cuts to AIM uses future Internet sales tax revenue that he is taking from counties to cover forced shortfalls," he said. "This is a horrible precedent and unnecessarily shifts the state's burden to local taxpayers who already pay some of the highest taxes in the nation. The state could have used its share of Internet sales tax revenue to make municipalities whole.

"Forcing counties to use a portion of their Internet sales tax revenue to reimburse our municipal partners does not help the state reduce property taxes or help to offset the costs of services to our residents. In the end, local homeowners and businesses just keep paying more for decisions made by the State."

Hornell Mayor John Buckley agreed. 

“The Governor’s proposed restoration of AIM funding is all smoke and mirrors," Buckley said. "This proposal simply shifts the cost from the State down to the Counties. While the Governor focuses on free college tuition for undocumented residents, pay increases for prison inmates and abortion up to the moment of birth, he is hanging municipalities out to dry. If he is brazen enough to strip AIM from towns and villages, it’s only a matter of time before he targets cities.”

Other municipal leaders appeared to be on board with the negative reception of the budget amendment. Following the announcement, NYCOM Executive Director Peter A. Baynes said the following:

"While we appreciate the fact that the Governor has acknowledged that the elimination of AIM funding would have serious implications for the state's villages and towns, his 'restoration' of this $59 million is in reality a robbing of one property taxpayer to pay another. Rather than playing this shell game, New York State should be fulfilling its obligation to increase its investment in municipal aid and the property tax relief it will generate. Imposing a new mandate on counties to make up for the state's cut to villages and towns will only further harm New York’s already overburdened taxpayers."

Whether the continued outrage from municipal officials, now joined by counties, will incite further amendments to the budget ahead of its deadline on March 31 remains to be seen.