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Editor’s corner: There’s a way to stop runaway tax train

City Manager Nancy Freenock was the bearer of bad news earlier this month. In an article by Josh Cotton, the Warren administrator talked about the need to raise taxes.

Most of what she was saying is truly out of her control. Warren is no different than many localities in the northeast. This proud community faces the challenges that others in the rust belt do.

Major employers have reduced their work force or left the region. When that happens, a majority of those former workers may be forced to do the same thing. Find other employment, sometimes sparse in this county, or head to more promising places.

When many leave Warren, however, it is not by choice. It is something that is out of their control.

Either way, this leaves a void. Residents who remain here want their roads maintained as well as services that come from police and fire protection as well as the minor things that include brush pick-up.

There’s a price to that, which Freenock highlighted in the Feb. 5 edition. “While the population in the city continues to decrease, the cost to maintain operations continues to rise,” she said, citing unfunded state and federal mandates and “perhaps the costliest of the benefits which the city must provide… the pension benefits which vary between the uniformed and non-uniformed services. Employee contributions to these plans are caped per statute.”

In 40 years, the county has lost nearly 9,000 residents. At one time during the 1980s, the population reached 48,000. Today, it’s much closer to 39,000.

This year’s tax hike, however, is probably not an anomaly.

Adding in the COVID-19 crisis, which is real in terms of lost revenue for the state, county and city, residents here have to expect more of the same.

Even with the current COVID-19 relief discussion taking place in Washington, which could lead to somewhere between $25 million to $35 million in a one-shot check for the municipalities, troubles lie ahead.

“The city is trying to cut expenses where possible, but given the level of service that is provided and the wage increases that were negotiated prior to the pandemic, there is only so much that can be done,” Freenock said.

Warren’s only answer is simple, but complicated. We need to grow.

John D’Agostino is the regional editor of the Times Observer, The Post-Journal and OBSERVER in Dunkirk. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call (716) 487-1111, ext. 253.

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