Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Elections and Local Budgets

Elections and Local Budgets.

   Looking at Cortland County’s election prospects this fall, we at the Cortland Contrarian don’t feel too excited. Where is the competition? With the exception of the city judge race, too many election candidates remain unopposed. Must be ‘global warming’ or something in the air that produces this sort of lethargy among our citizens. We hesitate to predict a heavy or average turnout.
   A few primary contests opened some doors, we noticed, while shutting others. So much for ambition and excitement.

   The political landscape in the city is heavily Democratic. Republican candidates are as rare as winter sunshine. Paint the streets of Cortland blue. Might as well change Cortland’s name to Ithakos (derived from Ithaca).

   There are a few bright spots when you look closely. Local government officials have proposed budgets for 2014 which show a measure of spending restraint. Surely the governor’s 2% property tax cap is behind this, but we think that there is a growing awareness on the part of local government officials to restrain tax increases while our local economy remains fragile and unemployment remains high.

   An aside: It was shocking to hear an educated person in Cortland say that state grants were free and were not supported by taxes. (Name withheld for privacy and other considerations.)

   Pressure groups, expansion-minded local government department heads and over-reaching state mandates are playing havoc with attempts to balance local budgets. Priorities need to be established and maintained. For 2014, both county and city are bumping up taxes about 2 percent. So much for tax relief and good intentions.                          

   The costs of public employee contracts, including pensions and health insurance, continue to increase at a higher rate than inflation. On the other side of the ledger, sales tax revenues are higher than expected. We know that budgets can be balanced without tax increases, and we continue to recommend that approach. Proposed and current staffing 'requirements' should be challenged every year. To fund reserves is to fund future spending, taking more taxes to pay for reserves.

   Cortlandville has the revenue and wherewithal to reduce taxes next year. But several town elected officials have chosen instead to pad their own compensation and add to reserve funds for future spending. Cortlandville officials have advertised that they are holding the line on tax increases. But why should they take first cut of the available revenues when tax reductions are possible? Cortlandville officials ought to reconsider, and lower taxes in 2014.

   Did you hear about the unexpected revenue windfall in the Cortland School District?

   Let us know when and where you hear about it. Leave a comment. One of our contributors started that rumor a few days ago.

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