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Professor says state policies are starving Norther New York communities

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Research conducted by an authority on city and regional planning shows the state is creating roadblocks to economic development in upstate New York.

Mildred Warner, a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, said municipal governments need to focus on improving quality of life issues and their infrastructure to attract new generations to Northern New York, according to a Thursday article on the website for North Country Public Radio (www.northcountrypublicradio.org). State policies are hurting upstate communities as items such as roads and parks are ignored, the article reported.

“[T]hese need to be invested in; they need to be maintained. And that is often the function of local government, and it actually requires money to do so,” Ms. Warner was quoted as saying in the article. “[U]nfortunately, that’s the kind of investment that maybe it doesn’t make front page headlines, but it’s really, really critical. Actually, state policy is starving the cities. And it’s making it impossible to make the kinds of investments in quality of life that they need in order to attract and retain their residents.”

“The professor is critical of policies coming from Albany: curbing property tax rates and investing in glitzy economic projects rather than concentrating on basic infrastructure,” the article reported. “Warner says mandates like rising pension and health care costs pose a burden, too. As for consolidating services between county and city, Warner says municipalities only see cost savings about half the time while it will usually result in better services.”

If asked what’s causing this starvation the most, municipal leaders will say it’s unfunded mandates by the state. The demands that state legislators put on counties, cities, villages and towns with no additional revenue to implement these policies are draining municipal coffers.

Ms. Warner’s research indicates that if local governments could devote more financial resources to improving their infrastructure and enhancing quality of life issues, more people would relocate to Northern New York. And with higher populations, these communities would attract more economic development. She seems to suggest that increasing the number of residents in a particular municipality would be a better way of easing high property taxes than the complicated tax freeze and rebate mechanism promoted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and recently approved by the New York State Legislature.

She’s correct that this plan could well result in increased populations of younger residents, which would create more economic opportunities. But that’s a long-term answer. Northern New York is in such dire condition now that steps are needed in the short term to provide relief to the people here and lure much-needed businesses.

One thing that’s necessary is to ease the revenue burdens on municipalities so they can improve quality of life issues and upgrade their infrastructure. Just as the state is pressuring local governments to lower costs by sharing services, the state must streamline its operations and review the unreasonable demands it’s making on communities. Reversing the out-migration of New York residents and spurring economic growth will require all levels of government to run themselves more efficiently.

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