It has not been the easiest 11 months for local governments as they contend with the financial burden created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal includes a little-noticed provision that could give local officials some relief heading into the new fiscal year.
Cuomo's budget plan includes a long-sought measure that would reform interest rates on civil judgments for municipal officials. The move has the backing of local government officials who represent towns, villages, cities, and counties in New York.
The interest rate on civil judgments was last changed in the 1970s and in some instances can exceed the award itself.
"The current interest rate, fixed at nine percent, has long plagued local governments and stood as an obstacle to appeal," the leaders of the New York Conference of Mayors, Association of Counties, and the Association of Towns wrote in a letter to the Legislature. "Without the reform proposed in the Governor’s budget, New York’s high judgment interest rate threatens to further distress municipal budgets across the State."
The pandemic has led to the highest degree of financial uncertainty for local governments since the recession of 2008, leading to a sharp decline in revenue and a push for federal aid alongside state officials.
"COVID-19 has required cities, counties, towns, and villages to increase spending on vital safety measures as the economic fallout of the pandemic has slashed revenues," the letter states. "The Governor’s proposal to tie the interest rate on court judgments to the market rate, the same method used in federal courts, will help protect local budgets from the outsized financial burden of litigation, preserving important programs and protecting taxpayers."
At the same time, the pandemic has closed many courtrooms and created a backlog.
"More recently, the pandemic has shuttered courtrooms, exacerbating existing court backlogs which have resulted in longer appeals and skyrocketing interest costs," they wrote.