As you know from many prior posts, New Rochelle — like just about every city in America — is wrestling with difficult budget and fiscal challenges. Persistent weakness in the national (and, in truth, global) economy has a direct, negative impact on our local budget, reducing various municipal revenue sources while increasing several municipal costs.
For several years, New Rochelle has confronted this challenge through a wide range of strategies to cut costs — a smaller workforce, frozen salaries and benefits, program deferrals and cancellations, and much more. I wrote about these actions in greater detail during last year’s budget process.
But focusing on spending cuts alone is not a balanced approach — after all, the need for municipal services like Police, Fire, and Public Works does not diminish in a recession. Meanwhile, increasing revenue through higher property taxes is a bad option that puts too much pressure on families struggling through this same difficult economy. So finding new and alternative revenue sources has to be a priority.
In this spirit, the City is reaching out to the large not-for-profit institutions in New Rochelle with a reasonable, albeit nontraditional, request: help pay for the municipal services you use with voluntary annual payments to the City. Among the organizations we will contact are Sound Shore Medical Center and several private schools and colleges. The City’s Finance Commissioner will suggest to each a contribution equal to about 10% of what their tax obligation would be if they were required to pay taxes.
These payments would be entirely voluntary, and, to be quite candid, I consider this effort to be a real long shot. City Hall has no authority to determine the taxable status of property — Albany sets the rules that determine which institutions are tax-exempt. Moreover, there aren’t many people or institutions who are sending extra money to the government even in flush times, let alone in the midst of a recession.
But there are examples of cities around the country, such as Boston, where arrangements like this are in place. And there is certainly no harm in asking. At a minimum, the conversation may help achieve a better understanding of the ways in which these institutions contribute to — and draw from — our community as a whole.
I highlight this initiative to illustrate the wide net that the City is prepared to cast in order to balance our budget in a way that’s fair and consistent with the values and priorities of our community.