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State Mayors Seek Relief from Pension Costs

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – New York's mayors are uniting in their fight to get mandate relief from the state on soaring pension costs. About a dozen representatives from the New York State Conference of Mayors met in Buffalo Thursday to bring attention to what they called a crisis in skyrocketing pension costs.

The problem, according to NYCOM, is a new law requiring municipalities to begin contributing more into the state's pension fund. According to the new payment schedule, municipalities across the state will pay $1 billion more next year alone. In Buffalo, the increased rate would reach 44 million dollars more annually by 2008. Mayor Anthony Masiello says that's inconceivable for any municipality.

"We cannot, under any circumstance, pass that cost down to the taxpayers and constituents who we represent," said Masiello. "We can't, in any way imaginable, cut our work forces to the point where we can still provide quality service at a price our public can afford if we have to meet these dramatic and very punitive increases in our pension costs."

The rates are set to jump to as much as 17 percent of payroll for police and fire pensions. That's a nearly 200 percent increase for many municipalities. NYCOM is proposing measures that could lessen the impact. Among the proposals, NYCOM asks that municipalities be allowed to use reserve funds to pay fees, shift fee schedules, and have annual fee caps. Executive Director Ed Farrell says something has to do be done.

"The money has got to be found somewhere or there's got to be some way to spread it out," said Farrell. "These proposals would get the system to where it needs to be, but over a longer period of time."

The mayors say the state's pension fund, nor individual pensions, would not be jeopardized by spreading out the increased fees. NYCOM has submitted their proposals to state lawmakers, including Governor George Pataki. The mayors say they want legislators to go back into session to remedy the problem before the first new payment, which is due this December.