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Schenectady mayor, on eve of fourth term, looks back on bruising budget battle with council

Mayor Gary McCarthy and the Schenectady City Council come to final agreement on the 2024 budget.
Open Stage Media
Mayor Gary McCarthy and the Schenectady City Council come to final agreement on the 2024 budget.

With the new year approaching, Mayor Gary McCarthy is reflecting on the contentious budget battle that could have left Schenectady in dire straits.  

After months of debate, two vetoes, and the threat of an end-of-year government shutdown, McCarthy signed the nearly $110 million plan after the all-Democrat city council approved the plan by a 4-3 margin December 21st.

"I'm comfortable with it," McCarthy said. "I wouldn't say everybody got everything that they wanted. There was some shifting at the last minute and [I] can look forward to working with the city council and expect the department heads to live within the adopted budget."

The plan was supposed to be approved by November 1st but was held up for weeks of special meetings due to disagreements over police and fire overtime funding along with trash, water and sewer fee increases.

Time after time, and in the end, three councilors including Carmel Patrick voted against the budget.

"I'm going to be voting no on this," Patrick said. "Again. You've all heard objections many, many times in our previous meetings. I definitely want to say that I thought, I think very strongly feel very strongly that [Fire] Chief [Donald] Mareno and [Police] Chief [Eric] Clifford in particular, all of our departments, so I feel that not putting in the overtime as the mayor, mayoral budget had asked for is really showing that the majority of this council doesn't seem to have confidence in the mayor, in Chief Clifford or Chief Mareno and the figures that they've given us so because I feel very strongly that public safety is, probably should, be all of our number one concern around this table I'm voting no on this budget."

The final budget includes over $600,000 in cuts to police and fire department overtime, along with a raise of approximately $2,000 for councilors, boosting their annual pay to slightly over $16,000.

McCarthy, a Democrat who won re-election in November, is not immediately troubled by the public safety overtime cuts.

"It puts some pressure on the overall staffing," McCarthy said. "The reality is with public safety is its demands can be widely variant. If we don't have major working fires, if we don't have homicides or major crimes, it's a lot easier to run the departments within budget. If you get those events, we have to respond, we have to staff accordingly. And I think the people understand that, the city council would maybe be asked to work with us for budget modifications, if necessary in the next year."

The spending plan is boosted by $7.4 million in ARPA funding, money that won't be there for the next budget. McCarthy addressed concerns about a more than $7 million deficit in 2025.

 "I've heard that for the last 20 years, when you start a year off, they say 'the next year is going to be terrible.' And 'oh it's difficult.' Again, we've got a good team, got a lot of good things happening in this community and we'll rise to whatever challenge is presented in this coming year," McCarthy said. 

McCarthy and the council have agreed to discuss the next budget as early as spring, in hopes of avoiding another stalemate next fall.

McCarthy will be sworn in for a new four-year term January 2nd.

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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