The enactment of New York’s local property tax cap has touched off a valuable ongoing debate on the role of state mandates in pushing up county, municipal and school costs. However, while local officials can make a compelling case for repeal of mandates like the Triborough amendment, they shouldn’t be let off the hook when it comes to self-inflicted wounds.
Take, for example, the town of Ramapo, whose bond rating was recently downgraded by Moody’s Investor Service. As the Journal Newsreported last week:
The town has $119 million in outstanding general obligation debt, of which $40.3 million is issued by the local development corporation and guaranteed by the town. The $40.3 million includes a $15.3 million loan from Provident Bank for the construction of phase one of the Ramapo Commons housing development and a $25 million bond that financed the construction of the [minor league] baseball stadium, which opened for its second season last week. Ramapo expects to pay off those guaranteed debts with proceeds from the sales of units at the apartment complex and revenues from the stadium — a repayment plan that the Moody’s report indicates could put the town’s stability at further risk.
The town-financed baseball park was the subject of a critical audit by the state comptroller last fall. However, the debt burden didn’t stop the town from recently getting Moody’s highest rating for a recent bond anticipation note issue of $15 million for further improvements around the baseball stadium.
Debt aside, Ramapo also has a heavy town payroll. With average salaries of $141,000 in 2011, Ramapo police ranked second among all town police in New York in 2011, according to the Empire Center’s annual municipal salary report. Police Chief Peter Brower was paid $247,325, making him the eighth highest-paid public official in New York. Regular town employees were the fourth highest paid in New York, with an average salary of just over $64,000.
Ramapo is in Rockland County, now mired in its own fiscal crisis. And the town contains the East Ramapo school district, which was among the very few to see its budget rejected by voters on May 15.
Anyone still building minor league baseball stadiums in the name of economic development is asking for trouble. However, while Ramapo’s irresponsibility may be relatively extreme as towns go, it is by no means exceptional in having to grapple with the consequences of its own bad decisions. You can’t blame all local problems on Albany.