Westchester County Association leaders this fall will stump for support among county and local government officials and school boards for a common agenda to relieve state-mandated costs that burden municipalities and school districts and their taxpayers.
The WCA recently joined 10 other business, educational and legal reform advocacy groups to present a six-point plan to “let New York work.” The coalition, an outgrowth of meetings two years ago between WCA President William M. Mooney Jr. and leaders of business advocacy groups Unshackle Upstate and the Long Island Association, is focused on reducing or eliminating legislative mandates following passage this year of the 2-percent property tax cap that will limit spending and could threaten services by local governments and school districts.
The coalition outlined a series of actions for which members will lobby in Albany in the 2012 legislative session. Their agenda has these main goals:
- Make the pension system predictable and affordable.
- Redefine compulsory arbitration for public employees.
- Reduce the costs of construction on public-private projects.
- Freeze step increases when public-employee contracts expire.
- Establish minimum health insurance contribution levels for employees and retirees.
- No new state mandates.
The coalition wants to change the state’s defined-benefit pension plan in part by raising employee contributions from 3 percent to 6 percent and by upping the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65, while excluding overtime from pension calculations. The final average salary that determines a retiree’s pension payments would be capped at $179,000.
To reduce construction costs on public projects, the coalition supports alternative approaches to project delivery such as design-build, which lowers costs and project length by consolidating design and construction services with one contractor.
The state’s 99-year-old Wicks Law – which requires school districts and other public entities to award four or more separate contracts on capital projects – would apply only to projects costing more than $10 million.
The law currently kicks in for projects costing above $500,000 upstate, $1.5 million in Westchester and on Long Island and $3 million in New York City.
To curb soaring health insurance costs, the coalition wants to limit employer contributions to 85 percent of premium costs for an individual and to 75 percent for family and retiree premiums.
Mooney at the WCA called the statewide coalition effort “a historic event.” Gaining support for the agenda must start “at the grassroots level,” he said.
WCA officials will begin that work this month when meeting with leaders of the Westchester County Municipal Officials Association and Westchester County School Boards Association.