Rochester Mayor Thomas Richards today warned state lawmakers that upstate cities can’t turn to their local revenue base to pay for growing government costs, saying the state either needs to provide more aid or find another way to help them.
Richards said the city’s tax base simply can’t afford higher property taxes, and there’s little money in it anyway. If Rochester raised it property taxes 2 percent, it would raise $3.2 million. It’s deficit is $28 million next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
“We got to wake up and take these cities into the 21st century,” Richards said during his 45-minute testimony.
Richards recommended the state look to its income-tax base to help fund cities.
“As a practical matter, I don’t see any way to go to get a broad enough base, except to the state of New York,” Richards said.
He pointed out that even though the city’s property values have increased, it does little to offset higher costs. For example, the bankrupt Eastman Kodak paid the city about $13 million in property taxes a decade ago. Now it pays about $3 million.
“It would take an investment in residential and smaller commercial property, something close to four maybe 10 times the size of the Eastman Kodak industry base to generate that kind of revenue,” Richards said. “It’s just going to happen, and so we need to get away from it.”
He said the city’s problems are also a societal one. Half the city’s children live in poverty, but the Rochester suburbs are generally prosperous. He said if you drive down Monroe Avenue from the city, you’ll pass James Monroe High School—one of the worst performing schools in the nation. Further down Monroe Avenue, Brighton High School in the suburbs is one of the best in the country.
Richards said he support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to allow for pension costs to be spread out over a long period of time, saying it would lead to fewer spikes in costs.
“In the long run, we are going to need to look to the state to either increase our direct aid or reduce our expense burden,” Richards said.