Schenectady County

Little things add up in city’s budget

Want to know where your tax money gets spent?
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Want to know where your tax money gets spent?

Sure, the Police Department is 20 percent of the city’s $72.7 million budget, and the Fire Department makes up another 13 percent. But most of the city budget is spent on little projects that residents simply take for granted.

Each spring, residents drive around newly painted crosswalks, avoid the stream of water from hydrant flushing and pass by dozens of workers in the parks without ever realizing how much money is spent on those endeavors.

Enjoying the fresh flowers and mowed grass in the park? The landscaping bill: $24,000.

Hauling away the yard waste and rotten trees to clean up the parks costs another $50,000 every year, and the city runs through $12,000 replacing those trees.

As for the “free” entertainment at Music Haven: the city’s tab is $30,000.

Equally unnoticed is the cost of the city’s streetlights and the municipal phone system. It costs taxpayers $1.9 million to keep electricity flowing to the street lights each year, and $210,000 just to keep the phones at City Hall working, before factoring in the cost of employees to answer those phones.

HYDRANTS CRITICAL

But the most obvious service that residents overlook many be the yearly fire hydrant maintenance. Residents generally assume that their hydrants will work if a fire breaks out, but three workers spend three months every spring making sure of that. Every year, they find about 50 hydrants that must be replaced and many more that need new caps or caulking, Engineer Bernie Sisson said.

To test the hydrants, workers flush all 2,200. Hydrant flushing can be seen in almost every municipality this time of year.

There is real money going down that drain. The city pays for every gallon of water and spends $40,000 on new hydrants to replace the ones that were broken by plows and drivers over the winter.

“Sometimes they get hit and people don’t know it, but they get broken off underground,” Sisson said. “Every year we find one or two of those.”

Other hydrants need work because water froze inside over the winter, breaking the pipes.

The city sends two part-time laborers out to do the job at a cost of $24,000, and also pays a senior maintenance worker to supervise.

But that is dwarfed by the amount of money the city spends to keep the municipal buildings clean. The supplies cost the city $20,000 this year, along with $186,000 in salary for nine cleaners.

And then there’s mailing out the tax bills. The city’s notices cost $8,000 in postage, while the paper and envelopes cost another $6,000.

A few thousand dollars here and there adds up. These six examples total $2.5 million — roughly the equivalent of the so-called garbage tax, in which each property owner pays $131 for garbage pickup.

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