Triggered by some upstate mayors, there’s an interesting debate emerging locally in the City of Albany. And, it’s pertinent to many more cities than Albany.
It started at a SCAA Forum on inequality (which was quite good, and to which I’ll return, but which is not the main subject of this post). Kathy Sheehan, Mayor of the City of Albany pointed out that the basic structure of local government and local government financing in New York was framed in the post-WW II era, when wealth tended to be concentrated in the cities. Then came cars and suburbanization. Now, instead of wealth, it’s poverty that’s concentrated in New York’s upstate cities. She was joined by Lovely Warren, Mayor of Rochester and Savante Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca. Much of Rochester’s wealth also migrated to the suburbs, although that City also suffered heavily from the fall of Kodak and decline of several other industrial companies. Beyond two substantial universities, tourism, and surrounding wine country, I’m not familiar with the specifics of Ithaca.
The three mayors pointed out that even politically disparate states like California and Texas grant legal authority to cities to annex surrounding land and communities, but New York does not. Though poverty may also be centralized in such communities, the respective city governments are not cut off from a fleeing tax base.
On Facebook, a local citizen, Julie O’Connor set up a online neighborhood association. Triggered by the SCAA discussion, they’ve picked up the discussion. Much of it has been around the notion of an income tax on commuters. In Albany, this of course, would tag many State employees and that employer is much less likely to move out than might be the case in Rochester, Ithaca or other cities.
I’m not ready to get into the debate itself, but do care about the fiscal health of all local governments. I’ve got the data handy so figured it might be useful to actually publish it. Anyway, here’s some actual data. (Read our slogan, folks.)
It’s a fair point that commuters benefit from many of those functions. Heaven knows I’ve heard the complaints when the snow isn’t plowed fast enough and soon enough. It’s also a fair point that the system dynamics in circumstances like these often cause some serious drain swirling. The worse it gets, the worse it gets.
As you can see, the largest portion of the City’s expenditures go toward public protection, mainly police and fire. That’s followed by general government, debt service (much of which I’d wager was incurred for street and other infrastructure maintenance), transportation (which would include more routine street related functions, such as snow plowing) and then sanitation. After that, it’s small potatoes.
Data source: NYS OSC. Analysis, Public Signals, LLC
These data only reflect the City government and do not include those for elementary and secondary education, which require significant property taxes.
For the record, we live just outside the Albany City boundaries, actually within walking distance. We had moved from the suburbs into what’s called the Mansion Hill neighborhood (around the corner from the Governor’s mansion) some years ago. But right after we moved in to the new place, we got burned out. And needing to quickly find a new place to live, we found a place to rent and haven’t left.