The Albany Common Council has passed Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s $177 million 2019 budget, but there was some opposition to extending the city's trash fee to single-family homes.
Sixth ward Councilor and pro tem Richard Conti says securing state aid continues to be a challenge and there's lots of work ahead. "It's a difficult year in terms of budgets every year because we're trying to put into place a budget that meets the needs of residents, understanding that we still have a structural deficit. So we still have to go to the state for $12.5 million dollars."
When she introduced her spending plan in early October, Sheehan depicted it as building upon her administration’s mission of creating a fiscally sustainable future for the city. "This budget increases very slightly from last year. As you know we had two years in a row where our budget actually decreased, our overall spending and our overall revenue decreased, this is a slight increase of about .33 percent in our overall spending, so it's still well under the 2 percent cap that the governor placed on the growth of the state budget. And the difference between this budget and our budget in 2018 is just under $600,000. About $600,000 of our additional revenue is driven by an increase in funding to our community development agency, which is really a pass-through. So, if you take out our community development agency, this budget would actually year over year have no growth."
The second-term Democrat promising increased investments in city programs and services. Councilors voted to expand the trash fee to single-family homes by a 10-4 margin. Third ward councilor Joyce Love voted against it. "I represent one of the poorest wards in the city of Albany, and my ward consists of multi-dwellings, two-family, three-family homes. Each floor is being assessed for $90 apiece. My feeling is we pay enough taxes as it is, and then we're putting the burden on the trash free, but some of the landlords are putting it on the tenants. I'm a landlord. I wouldn't dare put it on my tenant. That was the reason I voted against it. I know I'm still gonna have to pay the fee, and I will pay it, but we have so much blight in the third ward, we have so much poverty in the third ward, no jobs... this is one of the poorest areas, and I think putting fees on some of these homeowners that are just barely making it on Social Security, is just a bit too much."
Conti, who voted for the trash fee, says when Council initially authorized the waste fee in 2016, it also created an Affordable Housing Task Force to bring various stakeholders to the table to discuss and recommend options to enhance housing affordability. He says that task force is still in operation. He adds several exemptions for seniors and low-income people with disabilities were built into the system in 2016. "And there are substantial numbers. And this applies to those residential dwellings that receive curbside collection. It doesn't apply to a lot of areas in terms of public housing, multiple dwellings, apartments, etc. that don't receive curbside collection, that actually have to pay for it on their own, that in some cases are income-based units in affordable housing. So it's a difficult issue moving forward. You know the trade-off is it will not increase the tax levy this year, but we have to find a way to pay for our trash collection, and moving forward with some kind of a fee-based system. You know, moving forward we wanna move forward this system encourages people to reduce the amount of trash they put curbside through enhanced recycling."