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12/3/14

Letter to the Editor

New Rochelle’s Budgetary Burlesque of 2015,
or “Mulch Ado About Nothing”

The New Rochelle City Council's 2015 spending plan sets a new standard for budgetary buncombe and political perfidiousness.

Overall spending, at nearly $157 million, is bad enough; but that's not the worst of it. What is the worst of it is the astounding manipulation of facts and figures in the mayor's congratulatory pronouncement on the subject on the city's web portal; a new low in rhetorical disingenuousness and concealment.  By resorting to some relatively new metrics produced by the right-wing Empire Center think-tank regarding New York state municipal finance, he would have you believe that things are actually quite good in relative terms!  "Relative to whom?" you may ask. Well, he is not comparing New Rochelle to some remote village in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China; he is measuring the city's "property taxes as a share of market value" against other medium-sized cities and municipalities in the Hudson Valley.

This is sophistry of stupefying proportions. The incumbent office holder would have you believe that people, real people like you and me care a whit about our "relative standing” in a highly technical economic table prepared by a research organization whose stated mission is to "make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government." Laudable and exemplary as these goals may be to libertarians such as myself, this is not usually the credo of families looking for a nice and affordable place to live. (And never mind the incongruity of our radical redistributionist, "nominal chief executive" touting the research output of a corporate-funded, laissez faire institution like Empire; this should be the very last time that he will be quoting their work approvingly.) 

Objectionable also, of course, is a politician relying on the region's general prosperity (you know: proximity to the nation's financial and banking nerve-center; historically inflated real estate values) in order to tout the economic health of his political constituency. That's just cheap and cheesy.

For myself, I use as my guide the actual physical and economic reality of living in this city-suburb under conditions imposed by decades of party machine-run, big government economic policies. Accounting tables, flow charts and pie graphs are really useful for academic and professional purposes, but I would rather rely on the ordinary human senses (the "scratch 'n sniff" method?) for adjudging the livability, the viability and finally the "value proposition" of the fine little city of New Rochelle. And I believe the results of this experience are sobering. 

The city is essentially impoverished.  Its sales tax revenue, despite a regular ebb and flow, has been static for years (the occasional increases attributable to price hikes as dictated by the local big-box retailers and general inflation).  Property tax income grows because of regional and national trends, as well as changes in tax rates. Other sources of income, such as national and state aid and revenue from surcharges and fees on utilities, commercial transactions and the like (not an inconsiderable sum; last year the figure of some $26 million exceeded sales tax revenues) are highly variable, subject to external conditions and the whims of state and federal governments. And these other sources are often hard for the citizen-taxpayer-consumer to pinpoint, as they may be buried in periodic utility bills and reported by government in the most inscrutable ways. For a while, job prospects for area youth have been bleak and openings scant.

The city's physical plant is tired, worn down and wearing thin. Potholes are its plainest evidence.  They have just begun their annual appearance, like mums blooming in the autumn sun. But the broader, long-term picture is more troubling. Roadways are uneven, uncrowned (for proper drainage) and wash-boarded from year-after-year of delayed and under-funded maintenance and replacement. Parks and recreation facilities and thoroughfare medians look tired and parched, dusty from decay and insufficient grounds management. Public buildings appear somewhat cruddy; litter on the street and in receptacles filled to bursting seems to proliferate daily.

We know the contributing factors and causes.  Hiring freezes, lack of strategic planning, failure to complete and implement a Comprehensive Master Plan, management lapses, executive lassitude and more.  The mayor (besides gloating over a fiscal-reality imposed shrinkage of staff) makes scant reference to these. And that is only natural as they are the logical outgrowth of outdated economic policies, repressive and regressive taxation practices, a profound deficit of common business sense and a failure of imagination.

That is why the City of New Rochelle is in the state it is in and why the 2015 budget document is a fib-filled fraud. As Robert Cox states in his blog on Talk of the Sound  (11/29/14);
"In order to believe in Bramson's desperate Political Ponzi Scheme, you would have to ignore his Enron-like accounting where Bramson has converted large chunks of the budget to taxes, fees and surcharges all while the City Council he runs has authorized tens of millions for a new Public Works yard and proposed various irresponsible tax abatements for developers."

This redistributionist-extremist budget benefits no identifiable sector of New Rochelle other than the politicians in city hall. If the council had
respect for its own integrity and for the intelligence of its citizen-taxpayers, it would admit that the city is in severe financial straits. It claims to regard the state-imposed 2% tax cap as sacrosanct, but it is evident to all that minus the gimmicks, gimcrack and mirrors of its revenue schemes, it actually needs a more than 10% increase to balance the books!  This figure appalls the eyes and ears, but it has the appeal of honesty and integrity.

As presented, the 2015 budget has no such qualities. With phony accounting, a garbage tax masquerading as a fee and an ongoing off budgeting of the library it is a model of: concealment, lack of historical perspective and context, opacity and bureaucratic rapacity.  The continuing degradation of accustomed city amenities, such as the elimination of leaf collection (just beginning this year; see what surprises are in store the next go-round!) and the pretext that this reduction in public works is a component of the mayor's new-found obsession with garden waste mulching (publicized with an unprecedented expenditure of city funds) marches this charade from the mere transgressive to the near felonious.

The restraint and fiscal responsibility that this self-serving document arrogates cannot be justified in logic, language or law.  (And, besides the estimable Westchester Guardian and the Talk of the Sound, where-oh-where is a local "free press" that does more than just parrot city hall press releases and actually includes research and analysis in its reportage?)

Under the patina of a trickle-down progressivism that seems to oppress more than liberate, this budget is actually regressive; its hardest impact is reserved for those least able to bear it; the plain middle class, new and youngish families of color and traditional, older residents of European extraction.  

The budget is a redistributionist–extremist formula for the primary benefit of an ever-greater, tax- and public revenue- engorged bureaucracy.

Stephen I. Mayo is an attorney and owner of Mayo Linoleums Works, LLC

 

 

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