Leaders of Westchester municipalities are calling on state officials to increase an aid program that provides funding to local governments.
Created in 2005, Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) is an unrestricted state funding source provided to all of New York’s cities, towns and villages outside of New York City. The program was created in order to consolidate a number of local funding streams, curtail property tax increases and provide incentives to local governments to consolidate or share services.
For the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pegged $714 million for the AIM program in the state budget.
According to budget archives, that figure has remained unchanged for seven straight years.
“It’s great that the state says its own spending increase is limited to two percent a year,” Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said. “But part of the reason they’ve done that is by not increasing payments to local governments. That’s a spending shift, not a spending limit.”
Spano called the freeze a “slow strangulation of city governments.”
“The amount that Yonkers taxpayers send to Albany in the form of income and sales taxes has grown enormously over the years, but the amount we get back under AIM has remained the same,” Spano said. “A two percent increase every year would have avoided the layoffs and service reductions that are now possible in the upcoming city budget.”
Under the AIM program, more than $134 million will be designated for cities, towns and villages in Westchester County. Yonkers, the most populous city in Westchester, receives the bulk of the county’s funding at roughly $108 million.
“If the state had simply increased AIM funding by two percent every year since 2007 and kept it there, Yonkers would be getting $19 million more this year than we are,” said Spano. “If AIM funding had increased as fast as the overall state budget, we’d be getting $142 million this year. That’s nearly $35 million more than we are.”
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson said he hopes the state will update the formula for the program and “provide localities with a fair and reasonable level of fiscal assistance.”
New Rochelle receives $7.1 million in funding through the program.
“AIM funding has been essential to the delivery of municipal services and to holding down local property tax rates, but the state’s support for the AIM program has failed to keep pace with either need or inflation, and that failure has put greater stress on city budgets,” he said.
Even in municipalities where AIM funding isn’t critical, such as Pound Ridge where the funding accounts for less than 1 percent of its total revenue, the freeze
“Clearly, we would like to see it adjusted upwards, because any additional revenue from the state would be helpful considering Pound Ridge isn’t much of a consumer of state or county services,” town Supervisor Kevin C. Hansan said.
Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner agreed, noting that any state assistance to local governments would be helpful in keeping property taxes at a level that would allow the town to attract new residents.
“Every municipality is facing similar problems: maintaining services and being in compliance with the tax cap,” he said. “It would have been nice getting more state funding.”
Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors, said an increase in AIM is
“Just as annual increases in school aid help school districts comply with the tax cap and maintain essential services, municipal governments need and deserve similar annual increases in state aid,” he said. “The tax cap, which has been well below 2 percent practically since its inception, only accentuates the need for further growth in unrestricted state aid. ”
The state has countered that instead of increasing AIM, the administration has invested in other programs that support local governments and taxpayers, including $225 million earmarked in this year’s budget to match local savings associated with the County-Wide Shared Services Initiative. First enacted last year, the initiative was designed to generate savings by facilitating operational collaboration among local governments.
Morris Peters, a spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget, said that during the program’s first year, many of the proposals adopted by counties under the plan “will permanently lower the cost of providing local services, giving taxpayers a much better return
A call from mayors like Spano to increase AIM have been heeded by the New York state legislature. The state Senate included in its proposed budget an additional $10 million for the program. The Assembly’s budget included a $60 million increase.
Assemblymember Amy Paulin, a Scarsdale Democrat, said that “municipalities are not just being asked to forgo an increase; they’re asked to do more with less, since state aid isn’t even increasing at the rate of inflation.”
“Our chamber is committed to making the case to the governor and our colleagues in the Senate,” she said.
But whether those additions will be included in the final plan remain to be seen. A $50 million increase to AIM was proposed by the Assembly last year, though that increase was ultimately not included in the budget.