Troy Mayor Patrick Madden says the city is preparing for protests planned for this week after a skirmish with police turned violent in the city of Albany Saturday. Madden, a second-term Democrat, spoke with WAMC News Monday about that, the coronavirus pandemic and city finances on Monday.
First of all, how is the city doing under the coronavirus pandemic so far? We're speaking on Monday. The Capital Region Phase Two is set to go into effect on Wednesday.
Right. Well, it's been a challenge for the small businesses here. We are a lot of mom and pop institutions, small restaurants, small breweries. It's been a challenge but they have been very creative in finding ways to keep their clientele served. So, we're all looking forward though to the day when we can reopen and modify you know how we how we dine, how we go out to a restaurant. We're looking at outside seating. We're looking at a variety of options and we're tapping into their creativity. It's been a long slog. We understand the reason for it. It's been effective. You know, we've brought the infection rate down. The death rate is down considerably. And, we're just really looking forward to the day that we can reopen and do it safely.
What have the impacts on the city's finances been?
Well, the impacts are projected to be pretty significant. So we're going to lose a portion of our aid to municipalities, New York state's aid, we're going to lose a portion of our sales tax revenue, and of course, our departmental revenue is going to be down so, parking fees, various building permit fees. Things of that nature are all going to decline. The real challenge here is that we don't know how much they're going to decline. We can make some projections on departmental income and we've done that, but sales tax and state aid are more or less dependent upon how well we reopen and how quickly those coffers are filled. We will take a hit, there is no doubt about it. Our preliminary thinking at this point in time (and again it says based on estimates because we don't know where all this is going to end up) is in the neighborhood of $6 million. So it's a it's a pretty considerable hole for the city of Troy.
What kind of cuts are being considered or are advancing?
Well, we've made cuts across all departments in terms of expenditures outside of personnel. So, we've cut back on projects that we were doing, the things that we hope to get done this year. We are not filling roughly 30 vacancies across the city. Those savings will get us partway there and then we are looking at other options to to cover the balance. Our last resort would be to cut staffing in any fashion, whether it be a layoff or a furlough. We are a service based organization. We are already thinly staffed if we are not—if we're losing the staff, it's going to be noticeable in the quality of services that we offer. It's going to be noticeable immediately so, that is our last resort. I have to be optimistic that the federal government will come through with some assistance. I don't know how the federal government could turn this back on what will probably amount to be thousands of municipalities and school districts across the country that have been financially hurt by this. That would be a drag on our economy for another generation. So I have to believe—I'm optimistic that there is hope coming and we're employing a series of steps that will buy us time to see if the federal government steps in with some assistance.
For a long time the city of Troy was known for its budgets coming in in the deep red. Are you considering any borrowing here?
We are considering borrowing only in the sense of money that is owed us, or on capital projects. So, money that is owed us, as an example we receive revenue for 2020 late in the year. So, a good example of that is state aid. Most of that comes in in late December. So if we can borrow against that receivable to carry us to that point in time, that it would be a good use of a borrowing instrument and it would be paid back when those funds are received.
I want to ask you quickly about what Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin said on Friday, which was that "the county can go ahead and reopen" under his authority, that "it taken long enough with these pandemic shutdowns." Have you seen evidence of businesses in Troy going along with that despite what the governor's office has said?
No, I haven't yet. We're in close communication with our local businesses. We have been since the outset of the pandemic, and we're working with them on plans to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible once we get the go ahead from the state. So, you know, everybody wants to do this right. Everybody wants to get back into business, but they don't want to do it in a way that causes a spike in infections. They don't want to do it in a way that might be harmful to their clients or constituents. So we are again working closely with the business community, have been for quite some time. We look forward to the reopening, but we're not going to rush it. We're going to listen to the health experts.
I mean, did it surprise you that he said that? Have you had any conversations with him?
No, I hadn't had any conversations along those lines.
Let's talk about the schoolchildren in Troy. Schools have been closed, you know, for in person instruction since March. Summer-school is not going to happen and a lot of services are being cut. So, what happens to the city schoolchildren this summer? Where can they go? What kind of programs will be available to them as we get closer to a full reopening?
Well, part of that will depend upon where we are in the reopening process. We'd love to open the pool this year. We're making steps forward as if we will get permission to do that. We're putting the final touches on the fencing and the concrete work there. We're in communication with the Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area who will be running the operation for us. So, we're acting as if it's going to open, but we don't know if it will or when it will. We will do what the state will allow us. So, if it's opening a pool, great. We'll go forward with that. If it's cooling stations in addition to that, great. We'll do that. We will do whatever we can within the limits of state regulation regarding youth programming. We don't typically run a lot of youth programming ourselves. We work with other nonprofits in the community. So they too are guided by the state dictates.
It occurs to me we're speaking on June 1. Normally the Tri-City ValleyCats would be swinging back into action now.
But obviously sports are in limbo and we don't know if there's going to be a Major League Baseball season, let alone a minor league baseball season. What kind of impacts will the potential absence of the ValleyCats have on your city?
Well, like so many other things, it's just a great meeting place. See, you know, it is a fun evening. It's an affordable evening. You run into everybody you know there. It will be a real loss to not have that this year. At the same time, I'm confident that If it doesn't go forward this year that when we are in a position to reopen again next year, it will bounce back incredibly quickly. It's a real experience. It's more than just—it's more than just baseball. As most things are in Troy. I mean, the farmers market is more than just buying fruits and vegetables. It's also a social gathering. It's an event and same thing for the ValleyCats. We look forward to the day when we can get back to those types of interactions.
Mayor, your office put out a statement about some planned protests in the city. Now we're speaking just after we saw things get very violent in downtown Albany on Saturday. What are you doing to prepare? What's your message to people who are planning to come out in protest?
Well, I'd like to make one statement with respect to the statement that we put out. We did indicate in that statement that we were aware of two events. One that would occur on this Wednesday at noon, and another next Sunday at three in the afternoon. Information coming into us right now is that it will just be the Sunday event, that there is no event for Wednesday at noon, that there was some mistake possibly in announcing that. We don't know for sure. We will, until we get clarification on that we will act as if there is going to be an event on Wednesday as well. So what we're doing is we're meeting with the protest organizers, opening lines of communication, making sure that our objectives are mutual and that we support them in this effort. This is this is an important protest. The protesters have important things to say and we're certainly going to allow them to say that
Are you looking at any sort of change to police policy and Troy based on what we saw in the George Floyd video or any other information that may be available to you?
Right. The technique that we saw employed in Minneapolis is not one that is—that we do here. That's not allowed here. So, we don't need to change that. So, no. I don't think what occurred there is impactful of anything that we're doing here.
Should businesses take any precautions from your point of view?
My understanding is and I'm not going to...I don't have a crystal ball. I can't say what is, or what is not going to happen and I think Mayor Sheehan could have said the same thing. You don't know if violence is going to occur. I think we need to keep in mind that the the protesters and those who did the vandalism and looting are by and large, two different groups of people, and we should not confuse the two. Right now we're speaking with the organizers of the protests. They want to protest. They want to speak about the things that anger them. We want to give them that opportunity to do that. We want to give them that opportunity to do it in a safe venue. So, I think that, you know, there's no way of knowing whether others will come in behind them which is what appears to have happened in other communities. We'll be prepared for that but I know the protests are not intending to be violent and they're we're working with their members and those who attend to be respectful, and be peaceful, and hopefully to socially distance and wear masks as well. As far as the businesses are concerned, it's a judgment call on their part. We have no indication at this point in time that anyone involved in the protests and intends to be violent. Everything is actually to the contrary.