December 15, 2003
Honorable Sheldon Silver
Dear Speaker Silver:
I am pleased to submit to you the 2003 Annual Report of the Assembly Standing Committee on Local Governments.
The Committee addressed several important issues this year, including the creation of a new Statewide 911 funding program, as well as the adoption of a mandate relief package and the extension of the Private Activity Bond Allocation Act. This report describes the legislative actions and major issues considered by the Committee and sets forth our goals for continued legislative support of municipalities and their residents throughout the State.
I share with you an appreciation of the role municipalities play in providing essential services to the residents of this State and acknowledge your continuing support and leadership in ensuring that the Local Governments Committee continues to address issues facing New York's municipalities. With your assistance, the Committee will continue to focus on the needs of local governments.
Assembly Standing Committee on Local Governments
2003 ANNUAL REPORT
OF THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY
STANDING COMMITTEE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Robert K. Sweeney, Chairman
David F. Gantt
Joseph D. Morelle
Richard A. Smith
Brian M. Higgins
William F. Boyland, Jr.
Ryan S. Karben
Philip R. Ramos
Roy J. McDonald
James P. Hayes
Michael J. Fitzpatrick
Andrew P. Raia
Andrea Miller, Legislative Coordinator
Julia Mallalieu, Counsel
Michelle Milot, Senior Legislative Analyst
Michael Ayuso, Committee Assistant
Rebecca Rasmussen, Committee Clerk
Jacqueline Canabush, Program and Counsel Secretary
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Assembly Standing Committee on Local Governments considers the legislative needs of New York State's local governments, which includes counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, fire districts, and various other special districts. The Committee's goal is to monitor the problems of local governments, to develop legislative remedies to these problems and to research new proposals that will enable local governments to better serve the needs of New York State. The Committee is concerned with the enactment of laws that will further improve local governments' ability to address their unique problems, as well as prohibiting the enactment of laws that would impede local governments in their delivery of local services.
New York State statutes affected by legislation before the committee include: the General Municipal, Municipal Home Rule, Local Finance, County, Town, Village, Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit and Volunteer Ambulance Workers' Benefit Laws. Since the powers of local governments are so broad, the Committee's concerns range widely - from the general area of municipal finance, to the creation of a special district. Home rule, or "special legislation," is also addressed by the Committee. These measures concern problems of specific local governments and apply to a particular jurisdiction. For example, a home rule bill might permit the establishment of a special district for a town to remedy a local problem. Through the use of special legislation to solve individual local needs, the Committee has helped to resolve hundreds of unique problems and enabled local governments to better serve their citizens.
II. MAJOR ISSUES OF 2003
In May of this year the Legislature enacted a bipartisan budget which restored over $3 billion in funding to various cuts in education, health and economic development programs proposed by the Governor. The Governor subsequently vetoed the Budget and the Legislature overrode all 120 of the vetoes and restored the Legislature's bipartisan budget agreement.
The original Revenue Sharing Program, as enacted by the New York State Legislature in 1979, provided that eight percent of total State tax collections would flow to municipalities each year. The original statutory distribution of State tax receipts was based on a formula including population, full value per capita and personal income. However, since 1980, the funding level has been based on a fixed amount of money appropriated during the annual budget process. The program is comprised of four components: (1) Per Capita/Revenue Sharing Aid; (2) Special, City, Town, and Village Aid; (3) Excess Aid; and (4) Needs Based Aid.
The enacted Budget will maintain Revenue Sharing funding at last year's funding level of $781,322,000. This program funds the general needs of cities, towns and villages.
Supplemental Municipal Aid
This aid program consolidated three other programs into one: Additional Aid to Localities; Special Financial Aid to Certain Municipalities; and Targeted Aid. Funding is distributed to specific municipalities with demonstrated need. In the present fiscal year the following municipalities received funding: Albany, Amsterdam, Auburn, Batavia, Beacon, Binghamton, Canandaigua, Cohoes, Corning, Cortland, Dunkirk, Elmira, Fulton, Glen Cove, Gloversville, Hornell, Hudson, Jamestown, Johnstown, Kingston, Lackawanna, Lockport, Long Beach, Mechanicville, Middletown, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Norwich, Ogdensburg, Olean, Oneida, Oneonta, Oswego, Peekskill, Plattsburgh, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie, Rensselaer, Rochester, Rome, Salamanca, Schenectady, Syracuse, Tonawanda, Troy, Utica, Watertown, White Plains, and Yonkers.
For fiscal year 2003-04 the enacted Budget contains funding of $182,874,000 which maintains funding at the same level as last year's enacted budget.
Emergency Financial Aid to Certain Cities
In 1975, the Legislature authorized the Emergency Financial Aid to Certain Cities Act (Overburden Aid) to provide special assistance to cities with populations of at least 100,000, but less than one million, that had to finance a school system as well as general city government, and were at or near their constitutional tax limits (Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers). These municipalities have a State constitutional real property tax limit of two percent, which restricts the amount of revenue they can raise to support both municipal services and city school districts. The enacted Budget contains funding of $26,474,000, which maintains funding at the same level as the previous fiscal year.
Emergency Financial Assistance to Eligible Municipalities
This unrestricted supplemental State aid program called Emergency Financial Assistance to Eligible Municipalities was initiated to provide additional aid to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Yonkers and Erie County. The cities of Syracuse and Rochester were subsequently added to the list of municipalities receiving aid. Since 1980, this program has assisted localities demonstrating financial need and facing fiscal difficulties due to constitutional tax limitations. The enacted Budget contains $20,814,000 in funding, which maintains funding at the same level as the previous fiscal year.
Aid to Counties
This unrestricted aid program, called Aid to Counties, was enacted in 2000, to provide counties outside New York City with additional financial aid. Aid distribution is outlined in Section 54-k of the State Finance Law and specifies distribution based on population. The enacted Budget contains $17 million, and was included by the Legislature after the Governor failed to provide funding.
Streamlining Purchasing and Accounting
Municipalities received authorization to accept bids electronically, upon authorization by local resolution. Though this method may not be required as the sole method of accepting bids, it will provide administrative savings and expedited processing. E-bidding will allow localities to obtain the most current bids at significant administrative savings, particularly with bond sales which often take place in fluctuating market conditions.
Cooperative Local Purchases
Prior to the enactment of this proposal, local governments which chose not to issue their own contracts could only make purchases from a county contract or the contract of a contiguous county, a process known as "piggybacking." This initiative authorizes purchases to be made from the contracts of non-contiguous counties or municipalities.
This bill would eliminate the requirement that municipalities maintain separate bank accounts for various reserve funds, provided that such municipality continues to account for such monies separately from other municipal funds. This will allow for streamlined operations through the easing of administrative burdens.
Streamlining Through New Technology
Electronic Collection of Taxes, Fees, and Other Charges
Municipalities received authorization to collect via the internet, real property taxes, fines, civil penalties, rent, rates, fees, and other taxes and charges. This authorization could provide significant administrative savings to municipalities, as has been demonstrated by several other states which have authorized municipalities to collect local taxes via municipal web sites.
Website Use to Meet Posting Requirements
Municipalities received authorization to utilize their websites as a means of posting public notices. Though it does not eliminate newspaper publishing or other notice requirements, it allows posting on a municipal website to fulfill one posting requirement (of the several that are often required). Although it would be premature to require website notification only, outdated references in statute were updated to ease posting burdens on municipalities which also post information on their websites.
Local Government Cooperation and Consolidation
Municipal Cooperation Incentive
The ability of municipalities to share real property tax revenue was clarified, encouraging municipalities to act cooperatively and invest jointly in projects.Merger and Consolidation Incentive
The financial disincentive for mergers and consolidations was eliminated by maintaining State Revenue Sharing Aid at existing levels even when municipalities merge. Prior to the enactment of this proposal, municipalities would have been subject to a reduction in their revenue sharing aid payment.
Towns and villages received authorization to work cooperatively in planning village dissolutions, ensuring involvement by all stakeholders.
Private Activity Bond Allocation Formula
The Federal Tax Reform Act of 1986, imposes a ceiling on the volume of private activity and certain other bonds that may be issued in a state in any given year. The Reform Act also established an allocation formula which provided 50 percent of the Statewide Industrial Development Bond (IDB) cap to State agencies and the remaining 50 percent to local governments. Federal law permitted temporary modification of this allocation formula by gubernatorial executive order until December 31, 1987. Following this sunset, the Federal Act permitted the State Legislature to establish an alternative formula for allocation. The system proposed in this bill, implemented in 2000, has worked well and operates smoothly and efficiently. Issuers around the State are familiar with the process, meaning that the statutory continuation of this approach will provide the least disruptive, most flexible and least costly alternative for the allocation of the State's bond volume.
The legislation passed this year strongly resembles the legislation passed in 2000, which originally established a ? Industrial Development Agencies (IDA); ? State agencies; and ? statewide bond reserve, for use by both State and local agencies. However, this year's legislation includes the modifications made in 2001 to take into account the increased per person dollar allocation of bonding authority. The federal government provides an allocation of tax free bonding authority based on a certain dollar value per person - in 2000 that value was $50 per person, and in 2001 that value increased to $62.50. This per person increase has translated into an available amount of $909 million for 2000 and $1.2 billion for 2001. As a result, the 2001 legislation increased the carryforward allocation from $200 million to $300 million, and this year's legislation continues that carryforward allocation. Additional details of the allocation formula, established in 2000, follow.
Distribution of Statewide Bond Reserve:
Year-End Allocation Recapture:
Allocation Carry Forward:
New York State Bond Allocation Advisory Panel:
Future Year Allocations
Many people purchase cellular telephones for use in an emergency, not realizing that 911 calls made from a cellular telephone are not received in the same manner as calls made from a landline phone. Dispatchers at 911 centers receiving a landline call are able to automatically identify the phone number and location of callers. Due to technological issues, dispatchers do not receive the same information from wireless callers. This is true despite a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order issued in 1996, which requires wireless carriers to deploy wireless enhanced 911 service. Wireless enhanced 911 service refers to the ability of a call center to determine the location and identity of wireless callers.
Aware of the need for an improved 911 system, the Legislature, in 2000, passed legislation, (A.11379 Rules - DiNapoli), intended to provide additional statewide cohesiveness within the 911 system. This legislation was vetoed by the Governor who subsequently ordered the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to examine and report on the organization and operation of all 911 dispatching centers in the State.
Since 1991, New York State has imposed a monthly surcharge on wireless telephone bills to finance the implementation of an enhanced emergency telephone system for wireless telephone users. The monthly surcharge had been remitted to the State Police to pay for 911-related costs. A recent audit by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) found that the surcharge money had been used to pay for costs including dry cleaning and lawn-mowing services, while the localities which provided 911 service failed to receive any funding. The same audit also estimated that surcharge revenue collections have totaled $162 million since collections first began. Despite the revenue collections, New York State has not yet implemented a wireless enhanced 911 system and lags behind many other states.
Last year the Assembly successfully adopted a local enhanced wireless 911 program designed to improve the effectiveness of 911 Statewide and to provide funding to localities which answer wireless 911 calls. The highlights of the Local Enhanced Wireless 911 Program follow.
Local Enhanced Wireless 911 Program
Board composition and powers
Expedited Deployment Funding
In the 2003-04 Budget, the Legislature provided additional funding for localities, with the development of a new program called Expedited Deployment Funding. This program will dedicate a portion of the revenue from the existing surcharge on wireless phones to support $100 million in grants to help localities upgrade their wireless 911 systems. The grants will help local public safety answering points meet the FCC requirements for determining wireless caller identification and location, requirements commonly referred to as Phase I and Phase II. The existing Local Enhanced Wireless 911 reimbursement program, which received $20 million in funding last year and $10 million in funding in the SFY 03-04 budget, will co-exist with the expedited deployment program and continue to provide reimbursements to localities for eligible wireless 911 costs. Details of the Expedited Deployment Program follow.
Local Surcharge Bills
Eight counties requested authorization to levy a monthly $.30 local surcharge on wireless telephone bills to further supplement 911 funding. A detailed list of those counties can be found in Appendix B (pages 31-35).
Consumer 911 Education
In a series of orders since 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken action to improve the quality and reliability of 911 emergency services. Although the FCC has instituted comprehensive regulatory requirements for the deployment of wireless E-911 services, there is no federal requirement currently in place which effectively informs consumers about the ability of their wireless phones to provide location information in the event of an emergency call. Studies conducted by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) have indicated that on average only 25 percent of wireless 911 callers nationwide can identify their location to emergency dispatchers with any degree of certainty or accuracy. The rate of wireless callers unable to identify their location was as high as 42 percent.
This legislation would require wireless communication service providers to inform their customers about the limitations of the 911 system. Wireless service providers would be required to include information about their 911 capability quarterly in conjunction with the billing information. In addition, the State 911 Board would be required to develop an education plan. This legislation passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Establishment of Mutual Aid Standards
Section 209-P of the General Municipal Law allows municipalities to enter into mutual aid agreements for fire protection services. However, the standards involved in these agreements vary widely throughout the State. This legislation authorizes the Department of State to promulgate rules and regulations establishing statewide mutual aid standards and requirements. The rules and regulations must at minimum include acceptable timeframes prior to contacting the next available service and a standard of conduct for call relays. This legislation passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Long Island Workforce Housing Incentive Program
More than one out of four households in the country, almost 24 million, are confronting housing cost burdens. This problem is particularly acute on Long Island, with more than 25 percent of households paying over 35 percent of their gross monthly income for their rent or mortgage. In many cases on Long Island, the ratio of gross rent to income was over 50 percent. The Nassau Suffolk Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been ranked the seventh least affordable area in the nation for middle-income housing according to a Washington D.C.-based affordable housing organization.
This legislation amends the General Municipal Law to establish the Long Island Workforce Housing Incentive Program. Local governments on Long Island that approve the construction of five or more residential housing units in one site plan would be required to provide one of the following items: affordable housing, a fee to support the construction of affordable housing or land for the development of affordable housing. In exchange, the developer would become eligible to receive density bonuses and other incentives. This legislation passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Increases in Special Accidental Death Benefits for Police and Fire
In 1978, the Legislature passed into law a cost of living increase and a one-year escalation for all New York State widows and children of municipal police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. The intent of that law was to increase benefits to reflect actual costs of living and prevent loss of income due to inflation; however, the law did not provide any cost of living increase after July 1, 1979. Since that date, the cost of living has increased well over three percent each year.
This legislation will increase certain special accidental death benefits for surviving spouses and children of municipal police and fire personnel by three percent.
Clarification of Training Exemption for Police Officers
Section 209-q of the General Municipal Law sets forth the training requirements for certain municipal police officers. This section currently references section 484 of the Executive Law. Section 484 did at one time pertain to police officer training; however, it was renumbered in 1972 and again in 1973 and as a result, section 484 now pertains to rural affairs.
This legislation corrects certain erroneous references to the Executive Law currently found in the General Municipal Law by eliminating the reference to section 484 (rural affairs) and replacing it with a reference to section 840 (police municipal council).
Currently, coroners who are not licensed physicians must contact a coroner's physician prior to taking charge of and removing or transporting a body. In rural areas and during the evening hours it has become increasingly difficult for coroners to obtain the immediate services of a coroner's physician. This legislation permits non-physician coroners to take charge of, remove and transport a body without first notifying and designating a coroner's physician if such notification would be impossible or impractical. This authority could only be utilized in instances where the death is not the result of a crime and/or does not occur in a correctional facility. In addition, non-physician coroners would be required to notify the coroner's physician within 24 hours of taking charge of the body.
Despite the complex nature of their work, State Law does not establish training requirements for coroners/medical examiners, resulting in varying degrees of training across the State. This legislation would authorize the Division of Criminal Justice, in consultation with the Department of Health, the State Police, the State Education Department and the New York State Association of County Coroners to establish medical/legal investigation training requirements for coroners, coroner's deputies, medical examiners and deputy medical examiners. Such training would be required to be completed by persons holding such offices on or before January 1, 2005, and by persons taking any such office after the effective date of this act, prior to taking such office. This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Both the Public Officers and the Town Law currently require elected officials to maintain residency in the towns they are elected to serve. However, some localities have had difficulties finding eligible candidates for elected offices.
Residency Requirements For The Village of Trumansburg
This legislation authorizes the town justice of the Village of Trumansburg, in Tompkins County, to reside outside the town, provided that he/she maintains residency in the County.
Residency Requirements For The Town of Copake
This legislation authorizes the court clerk and deputy court clerk, in Columbia County, to reside outside the town, provided that he/she maintains residency in the County.
Residency Requirements For The Town of Nanticoke
This legislation authorizes the town justice of the Town of Nanticoke, in Broome County, to reside outside the town, provided that he/she maintains residency in the County.
Disaster Preparedness Planning
As a result of the tragedy of September 11th, counties have reconsidered their readiness to respond to not only the increased threat of manmade disaster, but also to natural disaster or other calamitous events such as the widespread outbreak of communicable diseases or mass casualty incidents. As local officials have considered how best to respond to such incidents, it has become clear that updated equipment, laboratories and procedures may be necessary to properly respond.
This legislation is intended to encourage counties to engage in regional disaster planning. Although Article 5-G of the General Municipal Law permits municipalities to act cooperatively, this legislation explicitly states that municipal cooperation agreements may be utilized to encourage regional disaster planning.
Exclusion of Municipal Sewer Debt
In 1963, New York State voters approved an amendment to the State Constitution authorizing municipalities to exclude indebtedness related to the construction of sewer-related facilities from State constitutional debt limits. Every ten years since, the Constitutional amendment has been approved by the voters; however, without a further extension this exclusion will apply only to debt contracted through the end of 2003.
This legislation would extend the existing exclusion of municipal sewer debt for an additional ten years, until January 1, 2014. Prior to being placed on the ballot for voter approval, constitutional amendments are required to receive approval from both houses of two consecutively elected Legislatures. This legislation has previously passed the Legislature as A.11269 Rules (Sweeney) and will now go before the voters for approval.
This legislation implements changes to the Local Finance Law necessary to implement the Constitutional Amendment excluding sewer-related debt. This legislation has passed both houses; however, if the Constitutional Amendment is not approved by the voters this legislation will not take effect.
Electronic Recording of County Proceedings
Section 211 of the County Law requires county boards of supervisors to print and transmit paper copies of their annual proceedings. This legislation encourages counties to take advantage of new cost-saving technologies, while at the same time ensuring continued public access by permitting counties to cause copies of their proceedings to be recorded and transmitted by electronic means, rather than by bound volume. Paper copies would still be required to be made available upon request.
Notification of Constitutional Challenges
Localities are not currently required to be informed of constitutional challenges to local laws. As a result, the local government may be unaware of a challenge and thereby miss an opportunity to appear and defend the validity of a local law. This legislation would require municipalities to be notified and provided with the opportunity to appear in proceedings challenging the constitutionality of local laws.
Procedure for Village Incorporation
The procedure for incorporation of a village is outlined in Article 2 of the Village Law. In order to be incorporated, a village must have at least five hundred regular inhabitants. In addition, a list of all of the inhabitants is required to be included with the petition for incorporation. In cases where there are large numbers of people to be included within a village, compiling this list has proven problematic - births and deaths have rendered the list obsolete almost immediately after its creation.
This legislation will limit the number of names required to be included to five hundred, regardless of the size of the proposed village. This will ensure the legal minimum is met while at the same time eliminating a burdensome administrative requirement and encouraging the incorporation of larger villages. This legislation passed both houses but was vetoed by the Governor.
Funding for Veterans' Organizations
The Town Law contains authorization permitting municipalities to make appropriations to patriotic organizations in order to help offset meeting costs. This legislation adds the Empire State Chapter No. 120 of the Retired Enlisted Association to the list of organizations eligible to receive funding from town boards.
Abolishment of the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency
Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, is the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Originally the site of an abandoned canal, it became a dumping ground for nearly 22,000 tons of chemical waste in the 1940s and 1950s. The canal was later filled in, and a residential community was built on top of it. The leakage of toxic chemicals into these homes was detected in 1978, and residents were evacuated. The Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency was created by Chapter 259 of the Laws of 1980, for the purposes of revitalizing, stabilizing, protecting and promoting the health of the inhabitants.
After 23 years of existence and administration of public monies through the federal Superfund legislation, the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency has successfully completed its revitalization and stabilization of the area. This legislation abolishes the Agency.
Nassau County Livery Regulation
Nassau County has experienced a drastic increase in the number of unlicensed car services operating in the county. These cars often lack insurance and are operated by unregistered drivers who may be difficult to locate in the event of a passenger problem.
This legislation permits Nassau County to regulate the registration of taxicabs and limousines - ensuring greater consumer and safety protections.
Proper Identification of Erroneous Town Tax Assessments
Some towns have begun adding a line to tax bills identifying a "New York State Real Property Tax"; however, there is no State property tax. This tax line instead refers to local tax assessments resulting from tax certorari refunds. The mislabeling of these assessments has resulted in confusion, with taxpayers unable to determine the source of the charge. This legislation clarifies the identification of tax assessments and requires assessments on local tax bills to be referred to and identified as "erroneous town tax assessments." This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Disability Coverage for Niagara Frontier Transit Police
This legislation adds the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's (NFTA) police officers to the list of law enforcement personnel eligible to receive additional disability coverage for injuries received in the line of duty; thereby ensuring NFTA police officers receive the same disability benefits as other law enforcement officers. This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Disability Coverage for County Probation Officers
This legislation authorizes counties to add probation officers to the list of law enforcement personnel eligible to receive additional disability coverage for injuries received in the line of duty; thereby ensuring county probation officers receive the same disability benefits as other law enforcement officers. This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Snow and Ice Removal Expenses
Many municipalities in the State have incurred extraordinary expenses as a result of snow and ice removal expenses from the winter of 2002-03. Several areas of the state were declared federal disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This chapter authorizes municipalities to issue serial bonds to finance extraordinary expenses of snow and ice removal, thereby ensuring that rather than an unmanageably large one-time fiscal hit, costs can be phased in over time.
Yonkers Private Bond Sales
This chapter extends the authority for the sale of the City of Yonkers' bonds or notes at private sale, until June 30, 2004. This legislation will provide Yonkers with additional fiscal flexibility by allowing them to determine the timing of their bond sales.
Town of Haverstraw Bonding Authority
Due to substantial pending claims brought pursuant to Article 7 of the Real Property Tax Law, the Town of Haverstraw may be liable for payment of a substantial amount to Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc. This legislation allows the Town to extend the financing of this judgment, or settled claim, over a period sufficient to reduce the property tax increases which would result from a settlement or judgment against the Town of Haverstraw.
Planned Unit Development Districts
Planned unit development is a zoning tool which incorporates a variety of land uses within a single, coordinated development plan. Increasingly, planned unit development is being recognized as a tool which can provide flexible design and encourage the efficient use of infrastructure, the effective delivery of public and private services, as well as enhancing opportunities for conserving open space.
Despite the flexibility provided by this zoning method, the absence of a definition within the State's zoning statutes has discouraged municipalities from utilizing this tool. This legislation defines planned unit development and explicitly authorizes cities, towns and villages to establish planned unit development districts.
Participation on Planning Boards
Many county and regional planning boards have difficulty achieving a quorum in part because members have frequently excused themselves from deliberations. This legislation clarifies that officials of a municipal board or body (i.e. city council) who are also members of a county or regional planning board must only abstain from deliberating or voting on proposals if the matter has been the subject of a proposal, application or vote before the municipal board on which they serve.
Absentee Ballots for Fire District Elections
Currently, fire district commissioners must adopt a resolution prior to providing absentee ballots in fire district elections. This legislation brings the election provisions of fire districts into compliance with the provisions of other local elections by requiring absentee ballots to be available for all fire district elections. In addition, this legislation also streamlines the process for the completion and submission of absentee ballots. This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Fire District Electioneering
There are approximately 825 fire districts in the State. These districts are responsible for administering fire district elections in accordance with the provisions of the Town Law. As a result, although New York State Election Law prohibits the display of banners, buttons and/or posters endorsing any candidate or issue (electioneering) within a 100 foot radius of the polling place, these provisions do not apply to fire district elections.
This legislation would incorporate the electioneering provisions of the Election Law within the Town Law and prohibit electioneering in fire district elections. This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Village of Pelham Parking Facility Transfer
Various opinions issued by the Office of the State Comptroller as well as court dicta, have indicated that parking facilities, like parkland, are held in trust and any alienation of that trust requires a special act of the State Legislature.
This legislation permits the Village of Pelham to exchange parking facilities with Ginsburg Development, LLC.
III. EMERGENCY SERVICES
Access to Benefits
Chapter 468 of the Laws of 2002 provided the parents, domestic partners and widows and children of firefighters who died as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, with certain special accidental death, health and pension benefits. This legislation provides a technical amendment to that legislation in a continuing effort to ensure that the survivors of the firefighters who died while heroically performing their duty will receive benefits.
Supplemental Service Awards
Many volunteers have provided decades of service and are now facing difficult financial times. This legislation would permit localities to create a new service award program to supplement the existing local service award programs currently authorized in the General Municipal Law. Supplemental award programs would recognize volunteer ambulance workers and firefighters currently eligible to participate in the existing service award program. Volunteers who have provided at least one decade of service in the timeframe specified by the locality, prior to the adoption of a service award program, would be eligible. Establishment of a supplemental award program would be at local option.
Actuarial Involvement in Service Award Programs
Volunteer firefighter service award programs may offer either defined contribution or defined benefit plans. In defined benefit plans, program sponsors provide retirees with a specified dollar amount upon retirement. In defined contribution plans, program sponsors set aside a specified amount based on the amount of time contributed by the volunteers who receive the proceeds upon retirement. The existing statutes governing volunteer firefighter service award programs are ambiguous about the need for actuarial services. This legislation clarifies that actuarial services are required only for service award programs which offer defined benefit plans.
Increased Incentives for Firefighter Retention
Service award programs were created by the Legislature in 1988 to encourage recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters by providing financial incentives roughly equivalent to retirement benefits. This legislation authorizes volunteer firefighter service award programs to provide credit for service after reaching entitlement age and collection of service award benefits.
Service Award Program Credit for EMT Classes
Currently, volunteer firefighters who participate in training courses of over one hundred hours, typically EMT classes, receive only fifteen service credit points. In recognition of the importance of EMT training, this legislation will increase the amount of service credit to twenty-five points.
Extension of Heart Disease Disability Benefits
In 1977, the Legislature found that volunteer firefighters often suffered injuries or death resulting from heart attacks suffered in the line of duty. The Legislature also found that claims of injuries from heart attacks were often subjected to lengthy delays. As a result, the Legislature added a new section 61 to the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law establishing procedures for the handling of such claims.
This legislation extends, until June 30, 2005, provisions relating to disability due to heart disease.
Membership in Fire Organizations
The process for membership in a fire company involves many different steps. In the case of a Village, for example, approval of the village board of trustees is required. This legislation will ensure that volunteer firefighters are not denied benefits because of an administrative oversight in the membership process.
Timely Verdicts in Firefighter Suspension Hearings
Section 209-l of the General Municipal Law requires that volunteer firefighters receive a hearing prior to being suspended for misconduct or incompetence and limits the period of suspension to one year. However, several firefighters have claimed that although they received a hearing, the verdict was not returned in a timely manner and as a result, their suspension continues indefinitely. Chapter 591 of the Laws of 2002, requires hearing officers to render a verdict within 90 days following the hearing, thereby ensuring a timely verdict and, in the case of a suspension, providing a specific date on which the one-year suspension should begin. This legislation clarifies when the 90-day period will commence.
Mutual Aid Agreements
With fewer volunteers and increased responsibilities, some fire districts have had difficulty providing around-the-clock coverage. Fire districts which provide emergency first aid have been especially hard hit. Under current law, municipalities are authorized to enter into contracts for the provision of mutual aid. This legislation helps address the shortage of volunteers by permitting fire districts to contract directly with first aid providers, including commercial emergency service providers.
Fire Hydrant Inspection
Non-working hydrants pose a major hazard to firefighters. In urban areas, the problem of non-working hydrants also further exacerbates parking problems. This legislation requires municipalities to inspect fire hydrants to ensure they are in working order and remove or replace non-working hydrants. In cases where fire districts are responsible for hydrant maintenance, they will be required to conduct the inspections and notify the municipality. This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
Increased Death Benefits For Volunteer Ambulance Workers
Volunteer ambulance workers provide an important service to the people of New York State, and unfortunately, the provision of that service brings with it an inherent danger. Since 1991, nine volunteer ambulance workers have been killed in the line of duty. The tragic events of September 11th have brought even closer to home the important role of emergency service providers and the dangers involved with their work.
The funeral expense and death benefit payments of the Volunteer Ambulance Workers' Benefit Law mirror the provisions of the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law; however, the provisions of the Firefighters Benefit Law have been amended several times since enactment to provide benefit increases. Volunteer ambulance workers last received an increase in 1988. This legislation will provide volunteer ambulance workers with a much-needed benefit increase and re-establish parity with the benefits currently received by volunteer firefighters. This legislation passed the Assembly but the Senate has not yet taken action.
IV. PARKLAND ALIENATION LEGISLATION
The issue of parkland alienation, or the conversion of parkland for other purposes, has been a great concern to the Committee for some time. Case law has been established which requires that any use of public parkland for non-parkland purposes must be authorized by the New York State Legislature.
As part of this Committee's on-going effort to protect the public trust as it relates to the use of parklands, and in keeping with the Assembly's policy of preserving open spaces, every attempt was made to ensure that the proposed alienation of parklands complied with alienation guidelines and adhered to the long standing policy, prior to passage out of Committee.
Committee guidelines for authorizing parkland alienation include the verification of the number of acres proposed for alienation, a review of those lands proposed to be dedicated as replacement parkland and a requirement that lands be sold at fair market value, with the net proceeds from the sale of parkland dedicated for the purchase of replacement parkland of equal or greater fair market value or for capital improvement of existing parkland. The legislation must also include a legal description of the lands being dedicated or alienated, as well as language detailing the number of acres contained within the lands being alienated or dedicated. Finally, the Committee requires a home rule message from the municipality requesting alienation prior to acting on any parkland legislation.
The following parkland alienation bills have been signed into law.
Village of Garden City Parkland
This chapter authorizes the sale of certain municipal parkland in the Village of Garden City, Nassau County. In exchange the Village must dedicate the fair market value of the property for the acquisition of new parkland or the improvement of existing park facilities.
Nassau County Parkland
This chapter extends, until 2005, the authorization permitting Nassau County to provide payments in lieu of taxes to taxing jurisdictions in the Lido Beach area.
Suffolk County Parkland
This chapter authorizes Suffolk County to convey certain parkland to Jopal Enterprises, LLC, in exchange for the conveyance of additional parcels to be used as parkland. If the land to be acquired is of lower fair market value than the land to be conveyed the County must dedicate the difference in value for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Village of Warwick Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Village of Warwick, Orange County, to sell certain parkland, and requires the Village to dedicate the proceeds for the purchase of new parkland or the improvement of existing parkland.
Village of Solvay Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Village of Solvay, Onondaga County, to discontinue the use of certain parkland and convey such lands to the Solvay Union Free School District in exchange for the conveyance of additional parcels to be used as parkland. If the land to be acquired is of lower fair market value than the land to be conveyed the Village must dedicate the difference in value for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Town of Hempstead Parkland (PILOTS)
This chapter extends, until 2008, the authorization permitting the Town of Hempstead, Nassau County, to provide Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) to taxing jurisdictions in the Lido Beach area.
Town of Hempstead Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Town of Hempstead, in Nassau County, to lease certain parkland for up to ten years. The Town is required to use the lease proceeds for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parklands.
Town of Webster Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Town of Webster, in Monroe County, to convey an easement over certain parkland for the installation of underground water lines by the Monroe County Water Authority. Following the completion of the installation, the Authority will be required to restore the surface so that it may continue to be used for park purposes.
Westchester County Parkland
This chapter authorizes Westchester County to lease equestrian centers for up to twenty years provided that the lease proceeds are used for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Town of Westerlo Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Town of Westerlo, Albany County, to convey certain municipal parkland to Westerlo Water District No. 1. The proceeds from the sale of the parkland must be used for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Town of Westerlo Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Town of Westerlo, Albany County, to grant an easement over certain municipal parkland to Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation for the construction, operation and maintenance of transmission lines.
Town of Rush Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Town of Rush, Monroe County, to discontinue certain municipal parkland. The proceeds from the sale of the parkland must be used for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Westchester County Parkland
This chapter authorizes Westchester County to lease certain parkland for use as a children's museum. The lease proceeds will be used for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Town of Eastchester Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Town of Eastchester to discontinue the use of certain land as parkland and use such discontinued land for the operation of the Eastchester Child Development Center.
Village of Roslyn Estates Parkland
This chapter authorizes the Village of Roslyn Estates, Nassau County, to discontinue certain municipal parkland. The proceeds from the sale of the parkland must be used for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Westchester County Parkland
This chapter authorizes Westchester County to discontinue certain municipal parkland. The proceeds from the sale of the parkland must be used for the acquisition of new parkland or for capital improvements to existing parkland.
Town of Cheektowaga Parkland
This chapter amends legislation passed in 2001, which permitted the Town of Cheektowaga, Erie County, to alienate certain parkland for use as a municipal golf course. This chapter amendment simply changes the boundary of the existing authorization to better reflect changes to the design of the golf course resulting from an increase in the size of wetlands at the site.
V. OUTLOOK FOR 2004
The Assembly Local Governments Committee will continue its in-depth review of how New York State provides emergency services to all its residents, in particular the provision of police, fire and ambulance services. While both professional and volunteer emergency service providers as a whole provide an exceptional level of service across the State, the level of support, both financial and technical, varies widely across New York State depending on the resources available to a particular area.
The Committee will also continue its review of 911-related issues at both the State and local level. The Committee remains committed to ensuring that any recommendations and proposed legislation reflect the rapidly changing technical means of providing emergency services in both rural and urban New York, as well as the financial realities of both residents and emergency service providers.
The Committee will continue to advocate for the equitable distribution of local government aid. In particular, it will continue to support the adoption of equitable new local government aid programs which should provide both a stable and predictable revenue stream for local governments.
2003 SUMMARY OF ACTION ON ALL BILLS REFERRED TO
|Total in Committee||361||92||456|
|Bills Having Enacting Clauses Stricken||4||0||4|
|Bills Having Committee Referenced Changed||4||0||4|
|Senate Bills Substituted Or Recalled||26||0||26|
|Bills Never Reported, Held In Committee||235||66||301|
|TOTAL NUMBER OF MEETINGS HELD||14|
|A.550||Parment||Permits a coroner who is not licensed as a physician to remove and transport a body without first notifying and designating a coroner's physician.||275|
|A.896-B||O'Connell||Authorizes the Village of Garden City to alienate certain parkland.||336|
|A.934||Christensen||Removes the 45 percent residency requirement for the Taunton volunteer fire district.||23|
|A.1503||Tokasz||Increases the number of service credit points pursuant to a service award program for the completion of training courses over one hundred hours in duration.||514|
|A.1554-A||Butler||Authorizes Fulton County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||197|
|A.1786-A||Winner||Authorizes Chemung County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||199|
|A.1812-A||Magee||Authorizes fire and ambulance districts to enter into mutual aid agreements with other districts.||378|
|A.2354-D||Gunther||Authorizes the Town of Thompson to contract with federally recognized Indian tribes as out of district sewer users.||2|
|A.3302-A||Destito||Provides that county boards of supervisors may cause copies of its proceedings to be recorded and transmitted by electronic means, rather than by bound volume.||627|
|A.3433||Weisenberg||Extends the authorization for Nassau County to make certain payments in lieu of taxes for parkland in the Lido Beach area.||346|
|A.3583-C||Englebright||Authorizes the Town of Brookhaven to establish a community preservation fund based on the imposition of a real estate transfer tax.||282|
|A.3592||Tonko||Clarifies the circumstances in which actuaries are required for service award programs.||648|
|A.3764-B||Sweeney||Authorizes Suffolk County to discontinue two parcels of parkland in exchange for the acquisition and dedication of additional parkland parcels.||166|
|A.4257||Errigo||Authorizes the towns of Bristol and Canandaigua to form a joint water district.||517|
|A.4417||Sweeney||Enacts the Private Activity Bond Allocation Act of 2003.||32|
|A.4590||Magee||Extends provisions relating to volunteer firefighter disability due to heart disease or malfunction until June 30, 2005.||89|
|A.4618-A||Sweeney||Provides supplemental service awards for certain volunteer ambulance workers and volunteer firefighters.||357|
|A.4767||Stephens||Establishes the Whaley Lake Dam Improvement District.||560|
|A.4887-A||Sweeney||Relates to the alternative methods of financing snow and ice removal expenses.||42|
|A.4888-A||Bacalles||Authorizes Steuben County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||207|
|A.4923-B||Mills||Authorizes the Village of Warwick to alienate certain parkland.||559|
|A.4925-A||Ortloff||Validates and legalizes a bond anticipation note and renewal issued by the Town of Altamont.||126|
|A.5006-A||Sweeney||Provides that a volunteer firefighter's service award program may provide credit for service after reaching entitlement age and collecting a service award.||647|
|A.5221-A||Magnarelli||Authorizes the Village of Solvay to alienate certain parkland.||64|
|A.5252||Townsend||Makes technical corrections to Chapter 647 of the Laws of 2002 relating to fire protection in the Village of Central Square.||201|
|A.5255||Sweeney||Extends the authority of municipalities to exclude from their constitutional debt limits indebtedness contracted from the construction and reconstruction of sewage-related facilities, until January 1, 2014.||* Con. Amend|
|A.5256||Sweeney||Relates to local government borrowing practices and mandate relief.||137|
|A.5258||Sweeney||Extends certain provisions of law relating to the period of probable usefulness for certain judgments.||83|
|A.5435||Markey||Increases the salary used in the computation of the special accidental death benefits for surviving spouse and child benefits of certain police and fire personnel.||139|
|A.5460||Ferrara||Authorizes the Village of Upper Brookville to expend certain funds from the recreation site and improvement fund for the repair, renovation and restoration of the Volunteer Center.||650|
|A.5518||Tonko||Adds the Empire State Chapter No. 120 of the Retired Enlisted Association to the list of veteran's organizations entitled to receive funding from town boards.||649|
|A.5787||Weisenberg||Extends until June 20, 2008, the authority for the Town of Hempstead to make payments in lieu of taxes for parkland in the Lido Beach area.||76|
|A.6094-A||Burling||Authorizes Allegany County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||204|
|A.6218-A||DelMonte||Validates certain actions taken by the Town of Newfane with regard to the consolidation of the Newfane water district.||414|
|A.6489-A||Gunther||Requires any party challenging the constitutionality of a local law or ordinance in any civil cause of action to which the municipal corporation is not a party, to provide notice of such challenge to the municipal corporation.||296|
|A.6598-B||Gunther||Clarifies the ability of elected or appointed municipal officials to participate in the deliberations of county or regional planning boards.||212|
|A.6676-A||Aubertine||Authorizes cities, towns and villages to establish planned unit development districts.||213|
|A.6806-A||Weisenberg||Extends the authorization for the Town of Hempstead to lease certain parkland.||605|
|A.6938-A||Schimminger||Clarifies that counties may enter into municipal cooperation agreements to plan for natural and manmade disasters, epidemics or terrorist activities.||283|
|A.6968-A||Finch||Authorizes Tioga County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||586|
|A.7158-A||Sweeney||Provides for the exclusion of outstanding municipal indebtedness related to the construction or reconstruction of sewage facilities.||550|
|A.7270-B||Gantt||Authorizes the Town of Webster to convey an easement over a certain parcel of municipal parkland to the Monroe County Water Authority.||659|
|A.7330||Young||Permits additional land to be added to the Cuba Lake District in Allegany.||312|
|A.7380-A||Parment||Authorizes Chautauqua County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||218|
|A.7397-A||Paulin||Authorizes Westchester County to lease certain parkland.||427|
|A.7398-A||Paulin||Authorizes Westchester County to lease certain parkland.||173|
|A.7414||Ferrara||Removes the residency requirement for the Westbury Fire District.||655|
|A.7486||McEneny||Authorizes the Town of Westerlo to alienate certain parkland.||608|
|A.7501||McEneny||Authorizes the Town of Westerlo to grant an easement over certain parkland.||358|
|A.8075||Rules (Gromack)||Clarifies the time frame for hearings involving the removal of volunteer firefighters.||551|
|A.8175-A||Rules (Magee)||Updates various laws to ensure volunteer firefighters are duly elected or approved members of their respective companies.||393|
|A.8213||Rules (Sweeney)||Corrects an outdated reference in 209-Q of the General Municipal Law to cite the correct section of the Executive Law.||233|
|A.8242-A||Rules (John)||Authorizes the Town of Rush to discontinue certain parkland.||451|
|A.8328||Rules (Miller)||Authorizes the Town of Fishkill to exclude the village from debt service for certain serial bonds issued to finance a new police facility.||308|
|A.8351||Rules (DelMonte)||Abolishes the Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency.||452|
|A.8376-B||Rules (Tocci)||Permits Westchester County to lease certain parkland for the development of a children's museum.||183|
|A.8426||Rules (DiNapoli)||Permits Nassau County to regulate the registration of taxicabs and limousines.||430|
|A.8438||Rules (Lifton)||Exempts the village clerk-treasurer and deputy clerk of the Village of Trumansburg from residency requirements.||397|
|A.8504||Rules (Paulin)||Authorizes the Town of Eastchester to discontinue certain parkland for the operation of a day care center.||616|
|A.8505-A||Rules (Paulin)||Authorizes the Village of Pelham to discontinue and convey certain public parking facilities.||614|
|A.8537||Rules (Manning)||Eliminates the residency requirement for the deputy court clerk and court clerk in the Town of Copake.||408|
|A.8594||Rules (Sweeney)||Relates to the designation of local public safety answering points.||536|
|A.8633-A||Rules (Warner)||Authorizes Broome County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||238|
|A.8647||Rules (Pretlow)||Extends for one year the authority of the City of Yonkers to issue bonds and notes through negotiated sale.||93|
|A.8653||Rules (DiNapoli)||Authorizes the Village of Roslyn Estates to discontinue certain parklands.||618|
|A.8675-B||Rules (Gromack)||Authorizes the Town of Haverstraw to issue additional serial bonds to finance certain judgments of settled claims.||662|
|A.8688||Rules (Finch)||Eliminates the residency requirement for the court clerk of the Town of Nanticoke.||535|
|A.8694||Rules (Paulin)||Authorizes Westchester County to alienate certain parkland.||617|
|A.8829||Rules (Tokasz)||Amends the description of certain parkland authorized to be leased by the Town of Cheektowaga.||191|
|A.8887||Rules (McDonald)||Authorizes Washington County to enact a wireless surcharge, not to exceed 30 cents, to finance enhanced wireless 911 costs.||217|
|A.9108||Rules (Nolan)||Makes certain technical corrections to Chapter 468 of the Laws of 2002, relating to certain accidental death and health benefits related to September 11, 2001.||162|
|A.9028||Rules (Sweeney)||Streamlines the procedure for village incorporation.||141|
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