Many local governments across the Empire State are struggling with their budgets, trying to keep costs down and controlling deficits. Earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a program that could provide assistance to hundreds of municipalities that would be eligible. But as Capital Tonight's Nick Reisman reports, the board responsible for the program fears those eligible won't take advantage of it.
NEW YORK STATE -- Nearly 400 local governments across the state are eligible for the financial restructuring board created this year by Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers. But just how many municipalities would want to participate in the program remains to be seen.
"I don’t know that it’s the board’s role to convince any locality that they should participate in this program. But I think it is another option that’s available," Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said.
The financial restructuring board met for the first time at the Capitol on Monday. The board's goal is to provide assistance to local governments that face structural budget problems and even binding arbitration for officials and unions. The board is dangling an enticing carrot: Up to $5 million in grants for reforms. But those reforms could also mean consolidation and shared services, efforts that have had false starts on the local level.
"I think it’s been difficult in the past because it’s been so locally oriented. The board will have some ability to push maybe both localities to consolidate that will make some sense," said Robert Megna, Division of Budget Director.
The board comes after a year of renewed focus on the plight of upstate cities like Syracuse, where Mayor Stephanie Miner opposed Governor Andrew Cuomo's pension smoothing proposal in favor of a longer term solution. Former Syracuse mayor turned Environmental Facilities Corporation CEO Matt Driscoll says the restructuring board could help his hometown.
"It's defined who's eligible. Syracuse is one. They would need to make application, of course, and I suspect they would want to do that," Driscoll said.
Nationally, the effort comes as cities like Detroit go bankrupt. While no city in New York faces such a crisis yet, the board is designed to stave off such financial nightmares.
"The tough choices are going to have to be made on the local level. This is just one way to help a locality through these tough times," DiNapoli said.
Restructuring board members expect the first applicants for fiscal help will come in the next few months.