New York’s new plan to help financially distressed communities drew praise on Wednesday from Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.
A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he had reached an agreement with lawmakers in Albany to create a Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments, Dyster issued a statement saying the plan represents a “comprehensive response” to some of the most pressing issues affecting local government finances, including those in the Falls.
“What works for Niagara Falls may not work for the next city or town, but the governor’s reforms will allow us to craft lasting solutions that are tailored to our own specific needs,” Dyster said.
Through the creation of the Financial Restructuring Board, state officials hope to help municipalities experiencing financial difficulties to better manage their affairs. The legislation includes an alternative binding arbitration process that municipalities and unions could voluntarily opt for to resolve contract issues in an expedited process.
The legislation will establish a new, 10-member Financial Restructuring Board that would be available year round to offer assistance to eligible localities. Any locality, not including New York City, deemed a fiscally eligible municipality by the board would be eligible to request review by and assistance from the board which can provide awards of up to $5 million per municipality through the Local Government Performance Efficiency Program, which makes up to $80 million in total available this year.
The board would also serve as an alternative arbitration panel to the binding arbitration process for police, fire, or deputy sheriff unions, if the municipalities and unions agree. The board would render an arbitration ruling within six months.
A local government would be deemed a fiscally eligible municipality for arbitration provided its average full value property tax rate is above the 75th percentile for all municipalities statewide, as averaged over the most recent five fiscal years, or its five year average general fund balance equals less than five percent of its budget, and the government has received certification from the state comptroller verifying total fund balance availability.
Niagara Falls has experienced significant financial challenges in recent years, due in large part to the lack of incoming slot machine revenue as a result of the four-year-long casino cash dispute between the Seneca Nation of Indians and the state. Now that the matter has been resolved, Dyster said the city will likely find itself in a better financial position, but cannot afford to be lax in how it handles its finances moving forward.
He offered his support for the proposed financial restructuring and binding arbitration reform plan.
“Governor Cuomo has seized a significant opportunity to help local governments back on the track to prosperity, and the legislature should join him by passing this measure immediately,” Dyster said.