Saturday, June 7, 2003

City officials blame money woes on Feds

Unfunded mandates topic at meeting

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Cities of all sizes are having difficulty keeping their budgets balanced, in large part because of federal mandates that come without funding, representatives at a national meeting said Friday.

About three dozen mayors and council members from across the nation are in Lexington for the spring committee meeting of the National League of Cities.

Talk of budget crunches, so-called "unfunded mandates" and how federal actions affect local municipalities financially is dominating the conversation, said Karen Cunningham, mayor of Madisonville, Ky.

"In many ways, cities are the last link in the revenue and funding food chain," said Cunningham, the first vice president of the Kentucky League of Cities.

Jacques Wigginton, a member of the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council, said the committee is discussing issues such as the recent federal economic stimulus package, Internet sales taxation and the erosion of the sales tax base, international trade agreements and their effects on local business, homeland security funding and terrorism insurance and federal immigration laws and their effects on local taxation, services and business.

The biggest issue facing most cities is how to pay for it all, said Margaret Peterson, a councilwoman in West Valley City, Utah (a Salt Lake City suburb). Last month in Washington, the National League of Cities held a legislative conference to give mayors and council members lessons on how to lobby federal and state lawmakers for more money.

"A recurring theme throughout the economic summit was that increased federal assistance to local governments is desperately needed to reverse the downward spiral that is forcing cuts in services and staffing, as well as higher taxes and fees at the local level," Peterson said.

According to a National League of Cities study, 61 percent of cities are increasing fees or creating new fees and drawing down reserve funds.

Cunningham said meeting the standards of the second phase of an Environmental Protection Agency regulation concerning stormwater discharges also will cost Kentucky towns millions of dollars at a time when local budgets are already tight.

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