Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy presented his budget proposal Monday night at City Hall.
City Hall says a "no surprise" package keeps spending on track without imposing sacrifices. McCarthy, a second-term Democrat, notes that under the $86.8 million spending plan taxes will go down for the fourth consecutive year.
"We're looking to hold costs and maintain a level of services, so this budget that I've submitted to the council today is a little over a half a percent reduction in the tax rate, some minor changes with staffing throughout the city, but then we hold the level of services in place and their containing costs."
McCarthy attributed the city's partnership with Metroplex as key to reducing the tax rate. "We continue to have a focus on improving our neighborhoods with the successful renaissance in downtown we've been able to shift resources into the neighborhoods. We look at continuing that focus, and really it's a results-oriented package that we're producing for this community. It's not only dealing with blight in the most significant stressed properties but it's creating opportunities for investment."
McCarthy notes 136 properties sold this year under the city's Homes program, which netted $1.5 million in revenue, with $1.6 million expected next year. The mayor stressed it's all about bringing properties back on the tax roll and improving neighborhoods. "There are 780 vacant buildings or structures in the city of Schenectady now. These are the properties that drive our police costs, fire costs, code enforcement and the overall resources of the city. It is a ongoing effort, it really requires a coordinated and focused approach, and it's something that we have been doing and I look to do in 2019 and go forward be better able to deal with those properties that are vacant."
The budget, which cuts some police and fire department spending, fills a few vacant positions and avoids layoffs, is under the tax cap.
Public WiFi, part of the Smart Cities initiative, is in expansion phase, and McCarthy says WiFi is being used as a tool in meeting one of the biggest challenges the city faces: poverty. "We're looking as part of our Smart Cities deployment, working with National Grid and a number of major companies where WiFi would be one of the communication protocols that we will put out in the city. We want to work with the school district to help close some of those education gaps that come out of households in poverty, so it's something we're gonna do over the next year and we're excited about it."
McCarthy expects to see a slight increase in revenue from Rivers Casino, which has fallen short of original projections. "It's multi-millions of dollars that we did not have before so we are happy to have the casino there. A thousand new jobs, a major investment again that's added to the overall fabric of this community to provide entertainment resources and just good economic development."
The city council must review and adopt a final budget by Nov. 1st.
Vince Riggi is an independent on the City Council. "I'm not surprised at the tiny tax cut. I'm glad to see that some positions are being filled in important departments because that’s where we need help. We have to be able to deliver services the way they should be. I think it's a step in the right direction, but this is, we're in the baby steps of this process."
The council's Finance Committee is conducting three public forums this week in addition to traditional budget hearings on McCarthy's spending plan.
Click on the audio file below to listen to Mayor McCarthy's full presentation. Below you'll find a PDF file to follow along with.
SCHENECTADY 2019 Proposed Budget by Mayor Gary McCarthy on Scribd