Mayor Vetoes Budget Transfer
Veto Concerning Resolution (R-17-28)
Budget Transfer from Employee Healthcare to Transit Fund Subsidy
Pursuant to the authority vested in me by Article III, Section 3.02 of the Charter and 3.04 of the Administrative Code of the City of Poughkeepsie, I hereby veto Resolution R-17-28 which was adopted by the Common Council at its regular meeting of April 19, 2017. This veto is cast within ten days pursuant to Section 3.02 (f) of the City Charter.
The debate in our City about the sustainability of our local transit system has gone on long enough. Throughout the years, as this issue has been talked about and then ignored – our general fund deficit has grown to a staggering $13 Million dollars, our bond rating has been lowered three consecutive times, our fiscal stress level has been noted by the State Comptroller, and we have been accepted by the State’s Financial Restructuring Board as one of only a few cities in New York state in need of extraordinary financial assistance.
Despite these simple, critical, and undeniable facts, a slim majority of this Council has voted to pass a resolution which sends the message that they do not care about these matters and would rather buy time to further study the transit situation.
Over more than five years, the stops and starts of this proposal have disrupted the ability of the City to well-manage its transit system. Compliance issues, a declining ridership, and an aging bus-fleet greeted me when I was sworn-in as your Mayor on January 1, 2016. Our City deserves better. Our residents deserve a sustainable transit system. Our taxpayers deserve to be able to depend on their elected leaders to make the difficult, yet fiscally responsible decisions.
While the City wrestled with this issue, mired in endless debate, our police officers went without a contract for years, essential maintenance and infrastructure work was deferred, the roof of City Hall began to leak, and vital positions like the City’s Development Director were eliminated. Parking lots were left unattended and deteriorating, and the number of blighted and vacant buildings in our small City skyrocketed.
The City has been urged to consolidate transit service with the County for a long time. From the Wendell Study of 2013, to the Fiscal Improvement Plan of 2016, experts have pointed to the overlap and redundancies between the City bus system and the County’s transit system and questioned why we wouldn’t take the obvious step of integration and expansion. What do we say to that very reasonable question, as we ask for millions in federal, state and county aid and millions more in grants and zero-interest loans to address everything from fire trucks to critical water and sewer infrastructure and the lengthy list of other needs in our City?
This is a non-partisan issue. Governor Cuomo has made shared governmental services a priority, and where those decisions can be made by local government they should be. County Executive Molinaro has led the charge in our region of the State, as the County’s shared services program has awarded millions in grants designed to maximize efficiencies and cut costs. With three consecutive annual County tax decreases – we agree with him.
This is a taxpayer issue. Each year our city subsidizes our transit system by anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000. That number is expected to rise as costs increase and ridership continues a steady decline. This annual subsidy does not include costs for new busses, a looming issue to evolve if the City were to stubbornly cling to its bus system much longer. We are the only city in the county which is served by two separate transit systems, and our taxpayers are the only taxpayers in the region paying for two transit systems. At some point in the long discussion, common sense and fiscal responsibility must prevail.
To be clear, this Resolution seeks to amend the budget a quarter-of-the-way through the year, without offering any plan for the future sustainability of the system. The majority says nothing about the fact that Moody’s issued a ‘credit positive’ about our budget this year, saying it was “a step towards structural balance”. The majority also dismisses the County’s willingness to help – it’s willingness to expand service on weekends, and its eagerness to adjust new routes to be as convenient for as many riders as possible. This is the same majority that doesn’t say a word about our debt, our bond rating, or the fact that for years the City struggled to pay its vendors and even its own school district.
The avoidance of a challenge is not a solution to that challenge.
Kicking the fiscal can down the road, while City and County busses continue to pass each other on Route 9, while our City taxpayers continue to pay for both systems, is simply irresponsible and therefore I cannot in good conscience permit this Resolution to take effect.
Hon. Robert G. Rolison