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Schenectady mayor seeks charter change to prevent future budget debacles

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Council President Marion Porterfield at a November 13, 2023 budget meeting.
City of Schenectady
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Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Council President Marion Porterfield at a November 13, 2023 budget meeting.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy is proposing a change to the city charter that would establish a budget deadline.  

The 2024 budget was due November 1st, 2023, but was held up by clashes between McCarthy and fellow Democrats who control the city council. Sticking points were water, sewer and trash fees and public safety funding.

In mid-December, following weeks of debate and two vetoes by McCarthy, the city council passed the nearly $110 million city budget in a special meeting by a 4 to 3 vote.

McCarthy, who is now in his fourth term, immediately signed the budget bill, avoiding a government shutdown that would have come ten days after.

McCarthy’s proposed charter change states that if the council fails to pass a budget by November 1st, the mayor’s original proposal would automatically be adopted.

"Last over half a century, council was always able to come to some agreement with the mayor and the council. Last year, we didn't. Again, this is just codifying process that eliminates any ambiguity, and puts everybody under a little pressure," McCarthy said.  

City Council President Marion Porterfield agrees the panel needs to "put something in place."

"You know we as a council, part of our responsibility is to pass the budget, so if we have concerns or we want to make changes, if it automatically goes back to the mayor's budget, that any amendments that we would have had would necessarily kind of disappear," said Porterfield. "So I'm not 100% comfortable that automatically goes back to the mayor's budget. I would entertain it going back to the prior year's budget, which means that we all had a say in how what the budget was, until we can work through any amendments."

The charter currently mandates the mayor send a budget proposal to the council by October 1st, and the panel must adopt it by November 1st. Nothing is said about what happens should the deadline be missed. Porterfield says it may be time for "an overall revision" of the document.

 "Look at the entire charter and make sure that everything is as it should be, not at this time, though, but this is a process for the charter revision, and I think that we should really consider doing that to make sure that our charter meets what today's standards are, actually meeting today's language," Porterfield said. 

McCarthy says he'll send his proposed changes in writing to the council, in anticipation of scheduling a public hearing.

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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