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Hiring Freeze In Place As Cuts Loom While Albany Hopes For State Funds

At City Hall this morning, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan turned up pressure on the state over the $12.5 million in aid the city is seeking to close its budget gap. The city is resorting to a hiring freeze and considering cutting programs and festivals.

Speaking Friday morning at City Hall, Sheehan outlined potential cuts the city would have to make to offset the impact if the funding doesn't appear in the state budget due April 1st.   She's put a hiring freeze in place and suggests city staples such as the Summer Youth Employment Program may be eliminated along with festivals like Alive At Five and Tulip Fest, but conceded those cuts would barely dent the financial shortfall.

Sheehan told reporters  "The total savings would be somewhere around half a million dollars. Because we so generate revenue, so we would have to take the revenue out, right, if we take the festivals out. Yes, there are some savings, but this is the capital city."

Sheehan stressed that several upstate cities receive much more money that Albany does. "Our AIM funding per capita — that's aid that comes to municipalities — is a quarter of what Buffalo and Rochester receive, or Syracuse receives. It's a third of what Rochester receives. It's almost a third of what Niagara Falls receives, and it's half of what Utica and Troy receive per capita. We are not being treated like any other large city in upstate New York. Of the cities that are ranked by the state comptroller's office of being in fiscal distress, we are the only city in the state, of our size, that is in significant fiscal distress."

The Democrat, up for re-election this year, says homeowners and residents throughout 25 unique neighborhoods bear a disproportionate burden of the Albany's tax levy. 

Sheehan recently made a "tin cup day" appearance at a joint hearing of the state legislature to request the money, testifying that Albany is the most fiscally stressed city in the state, which has been deficit-spending since 2007, operating with a depleted rainy day fund. She noted that in her quest for efficiency, she has cut $9.5 million in expenses. But that $12.5 million budget gap remains.

Sheehan did not bring up a rumored 22 percent property tax increase should Albany be denied the handout. The mayor emphasized that the current situation is no cause for alarm. "You know, I don't ever panic. We have a great leadership team here in the city. We've been through this type of analysis before.  I think that it is important though, that we announce today that we are putting a hard freeze in place. Any hiring is going to have to be justified as being budget neutral. So, for example, we do have some positions that are funded by grant sources, so we will be looking at every single line. I have placed a moratorium on blanket purchase orders, so every purchase is going to have to be justified, and, we're making sure that in the event that we are not successful that we've done all that we can to be fiscally responsible, and to ensure that we can get to a place that is not going to result in a hard landing."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Mayor Sheehan is urging city workers, residents, politicians and state workers to 'get on board' and call Governor Andrew Cuomo's office in support of funding Albany.

The takeaway from the early morning press conference is this:  "We are here today not because of concern that we can't manage the city. We'll do our job. What we wanna do is ensure that our employees, our stakeholders and our friends are calling the Assembly, calling the Senate, and making sure that they are saying loud and clear 'We support Capital City funding.' That's what we want people out there talking about."

From the sound of a response WAMC received from Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi, this nail-biter may be short-lived:   

"We've been in constant contact with Mayor Sheehan's office, as recently as this morning, and we anticipate reaching a final budget agreement that will benefit the residents of the city of Albany and New York State as a whole."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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