October 25, 2021

State commission asks for federal help

The state legislature Commission on Rural Resources has sent a letter to federal Senate officials, including House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, asking for more economic assistance for rural New York communities like Cortland and Tompkins counties.

“Rural areas provide natural resources that much of the country depends on for food, energy, water and recreation,” the letter states. “Yet, despite the essential role they serve, rural areas are notoriously forgotten and critically underfunded.”

The commission hopes to get the delegation to recognize and be more active supporting rural communities in New York, said Darren “Hal” McCabe, the commission’s executive director and mayor of the village of Homer.

“If you allow the municipal governments to fail because you don’t fund them directly or indirectly, the end result is loss of services and increased taxes for all residents, so it’s an almost direct burden on all rural New York residents,” McCabe said. “The state does not have the money to help at the county level and below, that has to come from Washington.”

The New York State Association of Counties said that regional governments could see a $2 billion loss in revenue.

“Basically, any municipality under 500,000 is going to get creamed by the loss of sales tax revenue,” McCabe said.

The letter, sent last week, states that before the virus hit, rural communities had already been struggling with insufficient or nonexistent broadband services and aging health care and transportation systems. Farms are also struggling.

“Despite the inequities they face, rural communities provide not only the nation but the world with a safe and affordable food supply,” the letter states, urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture get involved.

Farm concerns, particularly distribution woes and revenue loss, were the topics of discussion for the Cortland County Farm Bureau’s monthly meeting Thursday, said bureau President Jeff Perry.

Some dairy farmers have had to toss milk as the two largest buyers of dairy products, schools and restaurants, have shuttered or decreased the amount of dairy they buy.

McCabe said other things can be looked at to help rural communities, including:

No-interest loans from the federal government to municipalities for infrastructure work, including building repairs, new buildings, roads, bridges or parks.

A massive investment in rural broadband. “Anyone who gets electricity should get hard-wired broadband, period,” he said.

Grants for equipment or no-interest loans for municipalities. “A lot of municipalities (like ours) postponed purchasing or saving for some large equipment to cover the budget shortfalls,” McCabe said.