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Understanding the Impacts of Fiscal Stress

Understanding the Impacts of Fiscal Stress:  Developing Community-Driven Indicator Models

Smith Lever Project   
10/1/2015 – 9/30/2018


  • David L. Kay (co-PI), Senior Extension Associate, CaRDI & Dept. of Development Sociology, Cornell
  • Robin M. Blakely-Armitage (co-PI), Senior Extension Associate, CaRDI & Dept. of Development Sociology, Cornell

On-campus collaborators

  • Warren Brown, Director, Cornell Program on Applied Demographics
  • John Sipple, Associate Professor, Dept. of Development Sociology, Cornell University
  • Mildred Warner, Professor, Dept. of City & Regional Planning, Cornell University
  • Paula Horrigan, Professor, Landscape Architecture, Cornell University
  • Shorna Allred, Associate Professor, Dept. of Natural Resources

Off-campus collaborators

  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations (and in turn their collaborators such as local officials, not for profit directors, and school district administrators):

Ave Bauder, Seneca County
Ron Bunce, Oneida County
Beth Claypoole, Wayne County
Vicki Giarratano, Broome County

  • David Little, Rural Schools Association of NYS
  • School District Administrators in each of our four case communities
  • Ron Deutsch, Fiscal Policy Institute
  • Steve Allinger, New York State of United Teachers, NYSUT
  • Statewide organizations representing local governments:

New York State Association of Counties
NY Conference of Mayors
Association of Towns on NYS

  • Janet Mayo, NYS Office of the State Comptroller

Project Description

A major function of local government is to provide residents with services that support community sustainability and well-being. Yet across NYS, local governments face increasing fiscal stress (largely due to state-level policies which include the tax cap and unfunded mandates) at a time when many measures of well-being, eg. median income, show stagnation or lost ground. Particularly since the 2008 recession, local fiscal health and stability has suffered, leading in some cases to severe reduction and even elimination of local services. What is the impact of fiscal stress on community well-being and sustainability? Monitoring of fiscal health/stress has been led in NYS by the Comptroller. But little research has been done to support informed local decisions that systematically examine links between fiscal and service delivery consequences of budget decisions. Fiscal stress can lead to new efficiencies, and necessitates tough choices. But do some cut-backs go “too far” by undermining community well-being, leading to even more costs than expected savings?  This project creates community-level indicator models to inform fiscal decision-making. Benefits include: fewer negative outcomes, enhanced local capacity and sustainability, and more effective use of tax payer dollars. We will combine traditional community and performance indicator approaches with methods that highlight both wellbeing and impact. Leaders and citizens who have a broad understanding o