Layoffs likely for cash-strapped Schenectady

Layoffs are looking more and more likely in Schenectady.

Layoffs are looking more and more likely in Schenectady.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton declined to discuss the issue before his budget is released next Monday, but City Council members are bracing for the worst.

“We may have to raise taxes and do layoffs,” said Councilman Thomas Della Sala. “Raising taxes is the last thing we want to do. We’ve cut and cut and cut. What’s left? Layoffs.”

Stratton has been signaling that layoffs may be necessary since January, when the state announced it would cut aid to municipalities.

The state is only projected to cut $1.2 million. But that hit, combined with the council and mayor’s decision to spend $4.4 million of the city’s savings this year, will put Schenectady on uncertain ground next year.

The city cannot continue to use its savings to balance the budget — there is not enough money left to match this year’s $4.4 million. That means the city would have to cut back even if state aid remained the same.

Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard said the city could add new fees, which must be paid by nonprofits as well as taxable property owners.

“That could be in the works,” she said. “I can’t comment on that. There are some fast thinkers in the finance department.”

The last time the council created a new fee, the so-called garbage tax, residents protested in front of City Hall. Many still complain about that fee.

Stratton has in the past discussed creating a public safety fee to force nonprofit organizations to pay their share of the city’s police and fire departments.

He said Monday that the 2011 budget was the most difficult spending plan he has ever created.

“It’s extremely challenging,” he said. “The most difficult, by far.”

The mayor and council will discuss the budget over the next month, meeting twice a week for budget committee sessions. A spending plan must be adopted by Nov. 1.

Council members said they’re prepared for layoffs to be a major part of the discussion.

“I think we’re going to have to consider it,” Councilwoman Margaret King said. “Everything’s going to be on the table, as much as we don’t like it.”

Blanchard said she would support layoffs “if we have to.”

The Energy Advisory Board has offered one possible cut, she said. Every municipal building’s energy budget could be cut by 10 percent, forcing employees to become far more cognizant of their behavior.

“Not like we’re going to save millions by doing this, but people open their windows in the wintertime, and have electric heaters, and don’t turn off their lights at night,” Blanchard said. “If it could save one job, here and there. …”

Residents are already organizing to fight one possible cut: the pools.

Several residents told the council Monday not to close the pools, which Stratton has presented as a possible cut. He has said he doesn’t support the cut but must consider it.

Blanchard plans to argue that the pools are necessary.

“I think it’s a public safety issue, not a recreational issue,” she said, arguing that the pools keep teenagers from committing crimes.

Rev. Philip Grigsby, executive director of Schenectady Inner City Ministry, also asked Stratton not to cut the parks and pools budget.

“It would be penny wise and pound foolish to cut out services to those three parks that have programs,” he said.

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