Common Council takes comments on Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s budget proposal
Albany Common Councilors heard comments from the public this week on Mayor Kathy Sheehan's 2022 budget proposal.
The Democratic mayor, elected to a third term, Tuesday, delivered a nearly $190 million spending plan for 2022. The spending plan does not increase property taxes but does raise the amount of Capital City aid Albany annually asks from the state from $12.5 million to $15 million to compensate for untaxable state-owned land located in the city.
The budget implements recommendations made by the city’s state-mandated policing reform collaborative, providing for a New Public Safety Commissioner "who will adjudicate discipline, re-write APD General Orders, oversee the hiring process, and report directly to Mayor Sheehan," along with a new APD victim advocates and data analyst to directly connect crime victims to help, and provide data and transparency about arrests and police stops.
Albany County Legislator Carolyn McLaughlin, a former Common Council president, had this message for councilors: “As you make your decisions, and you continue to deliberate, and you continue to make recommendations for final decisions in there, that we will look at what I believe are the three top priorities for the city of Albany, they being public safety, housing equity and affordability, and youth services," McLaughlin said. "We are at a crossroads in our city where we really need to look at how we are dealing with these crucial issues that are at the key decision making points when people decide where they want to live. Do we have something for our children? Do we have quality housing? And will I feel safe? So I just asked that, as you look at the Albany Police Department budget, that you will continue to think about, what would you think about as you make a decision as to where you want to live, and is our police department equipped, and ready to supply the services that are needed to keep our city safe, to move on to make our city safer, because like right now, a lot of people don't feel safe.”
Outgoing Common Councilor Richard Conti shared his own concerns. “One of the items that came out of the finance meeting with the law department, an issue I'd raised in the past about the police, collaborative recommendations and implementation," said Conti. "It's also, you recall the RFP that was put out to write or rewrite, standard operating procedures and policy in connection with the collaborative. And so apparently that RFP, I think was issued twice, they got no responses whatsoever on it.”
Conti says the council should be part of the process and be represented in any internal work group or task force that may be created.
Some residents shared comments and concerns Monday about the distribution of Albany's federal American Rescue Plan funding windfall. Council President Corey Ellis: “We appreciate your ideas. We appreciate how you would like some of that money to be spent and you know talking to us is a step but also the administration because of how this money is allocated, a lot of it won't come through us.”
According to the city, Mayor Sheehan has proposed allocating $25 million from federal COVID relief money to fund a limited number of "highly impactful programs that can produce profound results." The council has had little involvement in decisions involving funding distribution.
Asked for clarification Tuesday, Ellis said council members would like to play a larger role. “Our corporation counselors told us, you know, the mayor has done it the correct way," Ellis said. "There will be some instances based off of applications and stuff where council members, if things go into the budget, especially next year's budget, then they would have a really say on how that money goes. But it's been an issue that council members continue to be wary of, with that much money coming through the city and not really having a say on a large portion of how it's spent. And as legislators, I can understand it when I was a legislator, I would have taken that position as well.”
Councilors are continuing budget discussion as they move toward final action on the spending plan this month.