Many potential Detroits in upstate NY – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the August 2-8, 2013 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Shortly before the City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr released a 130-page report describing the history of its decline and the impact on its people, finances and infrastructure.

In the post-World War II era, Detroit – a major manufacturing city with a population of 1.8 million – was declared the nation’s most desirable place to live and work.

Sadly, this distinction was short-lived. In the late 1960s, the automobile industry began eliminating jobs due to foreign competition.

People leaving for greener economic pastures caused the city’s tax base to erode and taxes were regularly increased on shrinking numbers of taxpayers.

The 1965 race riots, plus corrupt, incompetent and cowardly elected officials who refused to come to grips with the growing crisis and continued to give away the store to municipal employee unions, only hastened Detroit’s decline.

By December 2012, the city’s population stood at 684,000, down 63 percent from its 1950 peak, and unemployment was 18.8 percent.

Along the way, Detroit also earned the distinction of having the highest violent crime rate of any city in America with a population of more than 200,000.

Because there are 78,000 abandoned homes and 66,000 blighted and vacant lots, the remaining people pay the highest local income, property and utility taxes in the state of Michigan.

Ever-growing pension and health care costs for retirees has forced the city to drastically cut services. As a result, 40 percent of street lights are broken, 60 percent of the parks are closed and the unmaintained electric grid is rapidly deteriorating.

New York State, contrary to all the happy talk we hear from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other pols, has its own Detroits that are on the edge of the fiscal abyss.

Like Detroit, the cities of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira, Ithaca, Utica and Binghamton are turning into municipal deserts.

Buffalo’s population, which stood at 580,000 in 1950, is 259,000 today – a drop of 55 percent. More than 40,000 of its homes have been abandoned. The City of Niagara Falls’ population during the same period has dropped 51 percent to 50,000. An astounding 35 percent of its homes are vacant.

Since post-war population peaks, Syracuse is down 34 percent, Rochester 37 percent, Elmira 42 percent and Utica 38 percent, while Binghamton’s population has dropped 42 percent.

Upstate municipal governments are having trouble maintaining services not only because of the outrageous costs of government employee retirement benefits, but thanks to the additional burden of unfunded state mandates the governor has failed to address.

In Erie County, where Buffalo is located, officials have complained that every penny collected in county property taxes is used to pay for unfunded mandates like Medicaid. And that’s before they pay for libraries, plow any roads or cover police services.

Financially struggling upstate taxpayers, relative to their incomes, are paying the highest per-capita local taxes in the state. Yes, higher than here on Long Island.

If state officials continue to ignore upstate’s fiscal plight, and mayors and county executives follow Detroit’s lead and seek Chapter 9 protection, every municipality and citizen in New York will be adversely impacted.

Costs for borrowing will go up and long suffering taxpayers will have to pay higher taxes and endure more service cuts.

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One Comment on “Many potential Detroits in upstate NY – By George J. Marlin”

  1. Robert Dann Says:

    George: Great recap of the blight of Detroit but also what is coming to New York. I fear the pols will do nothing because there is no political will to change it. Cuomo is all about higher office; kicking the can down the road…

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