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Cuomo would slash aid program to towns, villages in Buffalo Niagara

There isn't much that unites Democrats and Republicans these days, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has managed to do just that with his 2020 state budget plan.

Cuomo wants to slash a program that provides hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to local governments.

Hundreds of towns and villages across the state – including all but three in Buffalo Niagara – would lose their funding entirely, and that's riling supervisors and mayors on both sides of the aisle.

"They're not playing any favorites," said Orchard Park Supervisor Patrick J. Keem, a Republican who is president of the Association of Erie County Governments. "It affects all of us."

Local leaders already complained that the state had kept the money provided in the Aid and Incentives for Municipalities – or AIM – program flat in recent years. Now, they say, the deep cuts make it harder to balance their budgets and they are lobbying state legislators to restore the funding.

Fifty-four of 57 towns and villages in Erie and Niagara counties would lose their AIM funding. Spending on the program locally would fall sharply, from $5.9 million to just $815,521, with just the villages of Kenmore and Sloan and the Town of Alden sharing that pot as their AIM funding remains intact. So would funding for the region's six cities.

"All the supervisors are up in arms over it," said Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger, a Democrat, "except the Alden supervisor."

AIM was created in the state's 2005-06 fiscal year to pull together various aid programs for cities, towns and villages in New York, while limiting local property tax growth and encouraging shared services, according to a 2018 Newsday report on the program. AIM doesn't include New York City.

This is AIM's 15th fiscal year and the state has held funding steady at $714.7 million for the previous seven years, according to Newsday and figures from the state Division of Budget.

In his 2020 budget plan, Cuomo would maintain funding for the state's cities. Buffalo, for example, would continue to receive $161.3 million, while Niagara Falls would get $17.8 million again.

Because the vast majority of spending in the program goes to cities, overall AIM spending would decline by just 8.3 percent.

Statewide funding for towns and villages, however, would drop by 87.5 percent, from $67.6 million to $8.5 million.

A Cuomo spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Towns and villages that rely on AIM funding for more than 2 percent of their budgets would keep this aid. That's why Kenmore ($641,350, or 3.43 percent of its budget), Sloan ($93,533, or 5.46 percent) and the Town of Alden ($80,638, or 2.06 percent) aren't affected, data show.

"I'm glad they didn't get cut, but I'm jealous," Keem said.

The Town of Cheektowaga would lose the most – nearly $829,000.

Town supervisors and village mayors say they had no idea the governor was considering cutting the program in his 2020 budget, which would take effect this spring.

"It's just unfair to villages," said Kenmore Mayor Patrick Mang, who sympathizes with other mayors even though his own funding is preserved.

Towns approved their 2019 budgets last fall, Emminger and Keem said, and they'll have to scramble to replace that aid. Officials said the money typically goes into their general funds.

Keem grumbled about the cut coming on top of expensive state-mandated programs, such as training for town employees. Towns and villages also operate under a state-imposed cap that limits property tax increases to 2 percent.

"We're doing exactly what the governor wants us to do," Emminger said.

If the cuts are adopted as proposed, towns and villages could have to cut their own spending or raise taxes in 2020, officials said.

Emminger and Keem say they are reminding state legislators of the need for AIM funding.

"Hopefully he comes to his senses," Keem said of the governor.

State lawmakers in recent days have issued statements decrying the AIM cuts.

"I am committed to protecting the municipalities in my district, and after speaking with my Assembly colleagues, I know it’s a priority for them as well," said Assemblyman Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo, calling the cuts a "negotiating tactic" by the governor.

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