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On 'Tin Cup Day' Albany Mayor Testifies City In Crisis

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NYS Legislature
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Keeping with tradition, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and other local officials headed to the state capitol in Albany Monday.

Along with New York City’s Bill de Blasio and Syracuse’s Stephanie Miner, the mayors were there as part of what’s become known as  “tin cup day,” as they seek state funding to plug budget holes.

Making the annual uphill trek to the capitol from city hall, Sheehan appeared at a joint hearing of the state legislature to plead for money to fix a $12.5 million budget gap. She said homeowners and residents throughout 25 unique neighborhoods bear a disproportionate burden of the Albany's tax levy.    "It is a city that doubles in population nearly every day, and that's great for the economy but it's actually a both of a mixed blessing for the city of Albany, because those employees, most of them, walk into tax-exempt buildings. Our largest employers, other than state government, are Albany Medical Center, St. Peter's Hospital, the VA, Memorial Hospital, UAlbany, SUNY Poly, the Center For Disabilities Services. Those are the large employers in this area, and all of them enjoy tax-exemption. And we, while we would benefit from sales tax revenues that employees generate at lunch time, many of these large institutions, actually all of these large institutions, provide on-site dining and sales taxes here countywide. So the sales tax dollars generated in the city of Albany are taken by the county and then distributed countywide based on population."

Citing figures provided by the state comptroller's office, Sheehan added Albany is the most fiscally stressed city in the state, which has been deficit-spending since 2007, operating with a depleted rainy day fund. She noted that in her quest for efficiency, she has cut $9.5 million in expenses. But that $12.5 million budget gap remains.    "We are requesting though that we see a permanent increase in funding for the capital city. The PILOT payments that we currently receive from the state for the Empire State Plaza really is equivalent to just about 0.36 percent of the value of all of the state property that is in the city of Albany."

Sheehan, who says she is always on the lookout for cost-saving opportunities, acknowledged that spin-ups and one-shots have helped maintain city solvency from year to year, but that $12.5 million structural deficit is "real," a significant challenge that could result in a 22 percent property tax increase if Albany is denied the handout.  She stressed that Albany receives the lowest Aid and Incentives for Municipalities payment of any city statewide.  "There was a report written in 2010 called 'Capital Punishment' that really outlined how, as the state capital, it does, to our residents, sometimes feel as though we're being punished for being the state capital because of the way this formula works. It's very challenging. My hair is red but I have considered setting it on fire to demonstrate the urgency. And I think the numbers are so compelling and I don't want my smile to in any way detract from the fact we are in a crisis. We are in a complete crisis. And this gap is a gap we should be able to fill. We're not asking for more than any of the other upstate cities that have similar challenges that we have with vacancies, poverty and challenges with our schools. All we're asking for is not even parity. Again, as I'm saying, give us half and we can do a lot with it. Because we've demonstrated that we can be effective and efficient and we are very good stewards of taxpayer money."

Sheehan told legislators she has continued to review revenue opportunities but has found nothing suitable to date.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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