Imagine our municipality of Mount Vernon – a city of some 68,000 people without the capacity to borrow, because it lost its Moody’s ratings due to a failure to complete audited financial statements. That’s a crippling event, and should be ground zero for every taxpayer. Imagine that scenario in an economic slowdown or recession. That’s now within the realm of contemplation, because of recent market volatility driven by Trump trade wars. In that case, New York State’s aid package for 2020 will be limited; but worse, can ONLY be made available to municipalities on a spend-first basis. In other words, a municipality must be able to BORROW money for infrastructure projects (Capital Plan) than spend it first, before it can “drawdown” state aid. That is Mount Vernon’s current and near-term reality.
Further, we are being fined some $50K per day; precipitated by federal and state authorities for violations to the Clean Water Act, known colloquially as the “leaking sewer” violations. That’s just to assess how extensive the infraction is. The projected repair cost will be huge – a number not yet quantified; and a timeline for implementation: probably decades. Remember, we are still consumed with Memorial Field – an infrastructure project started in the 1990s, and thank goodness for Westchester County’s effort and support which may finally resuscitate the stalled implementation.
But I digressed. Getting back to the sewer fix, our operating budget for 2020 is not the appropriate financial vehicle to cover those large ‘one-time’ expenditures; and others like it. But if we can’t borrow, that heavy burden falls back to the operating budget, via what may be a heavy 2020 tax levy put to the taxpayers.
Hence the need for Mount Vernon 2019- Charter Revision’s three-pronged framework (filed with the Mount Vernon City Clerk and Westchester County Board of Elections on August 5, 2019) to regain Mount Vernon’s Moody’s ratings: 1) Fiscal Accountability; 2) Financial Transparency; and 3) a road map to a structured planning process to stimulate economic development, and to create shovel- ready infrastructure plans.
It is in the public’s interest, and the greater good of our democracy to give voters of Mount Vernon the opportunity to have their say on these critical priorities now; because in the words of a neighbor: “No one is coming to save us.”
Derickson Lawrence is a Mount Vernon resident and serves as chair of the City of Mount Vernon, Charter Revision Commission.