Clerical error reportedly triggered state response
Conrad vows to fight for city’s aid in state budget process
By Michael DePietro
Facing cuts of nearly 25% in state funding this year, the North Tonawanda Common Council approved a resolution Tuesday requesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to increase Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) funding in the 2021-22 state budget.
Recently, the governor’s proposed budget stated it would reduce the amount of AIM funding for cities in the state, “based on (each city’s) reliance, calculated as a percentage of the total city budget. Payments will be reduced by 2.5% for those cities with the highest reliance on AIM, and up to 20% for those who have the least reliance.”
The proposed budget cuts in AIM funding to municipalities in Niagara County to the tune of $1,709,462. Specifically, North Tonawanda’s funding is to be cut from the fiscal year 2021 enacted budget of $4,335,111 (which does not include the impact of withholdings during the year) to $3,468,089 – a proposed decrease of $867,022.
Per the resolution, there are fears that the funding cuts could lead to potential reductions in services and personnel, including those in health and safety. Police and fire departments could also be impacted. Common Council President Robert Pecoraro, who authored the resolution, pledged he would vehemently fight such cuts to those departments.
“There are a few services that we absolutely, as elected representatives, cannot take a back seat to – and that’s police and fire. Those are the two essential services that are absolutely a must-do for a municipality,” Pecoraro said. “Those are issues that we will fight, and fight hard, to make sure that we are the best at what we do. The metrics have proven that we are the very best in those areas, and I’ll be one who is not going to stand aside and see anything done to hinder those services.”
Considering North Tonawanda’s reliance on state funds, the question among the council was why was the state slashing the city’s funding at a high rate. That issue could be due in part to a clerical error on the city’s part.
Alderman-at-Large Austin Tylec said that, in his conversations with Assemblyman William Conrad, an observation was discovered in this year’s Yellow Book – the assembly’s preliminary analysis of the executive budget as required by Section 53 of the legislative law. Therein, it was noted North Tonawanda was one of nine cities in New York state that did not submit an annual finance report (AFR) to the state comptroller’s office. That resulted in an immediate triggering of the higher funding cut rate.
On Wednesday, 3rd Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka posted correspondence from City Accountant Jeffrey Zellner that the 2019 AFR was submitted December, and accused Tylec of giving out “false information.”
However, in a reply posted to his own Facebook page, Tylec noted the due date for the 2019 AFR was to be “within the first 120 days of the year (by the end of April 2020).”
“Basically we didnt turn in our homework on time, and we are getting penalized,” Tylec wrote. “We submitted the 2019 documentation, but because we were so late, the governor’s proposed budget grouped our city within the 20% state aid reduction.”
Tylec said, upon learning the specifics, he reached out to Conrad again. The Assembly, “understands the situation now and will be doing everything they can to fight for our city’s state aid throughout the budget process,” he added.
In response to a commenter seeking to assign blame, Tylec shielded Zellner, who was appointed in March 2020. Rather, he said the issue was due to the vacancy in the accountant’s position caused by the resignation of former city accountant Amanda Reimer in January 2020.
Despite the Facebook drama, the council did unanimously pass Pecoraro’s resolution on Tuesday and all members expressed a willingness to work with state and local leaders to ensure the AIM cuts are reduced.