Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy is cutting back on professional memberships, conferences and training — but he’s adding a secretary to his office, restoring a position cut last year.
He said he needs a second secretary, at a salary of $27,600 plus benefits, because the office gets 100 to 110 phone calls a day.
McCarthy is proposing a $79.2 million budget — up from $77.4 million this year — with a 1.89 percent tax increase. For a homeowner with the average house, assessed at $100,000, taxes would go up $24, to $1,333. City fees would go up, too: $24 more for garbage collection, $22.92 for sewer and $20.64 for water. That means the homeowner would see a total increase of $91.56 next year.
At the City Council’s first budget meeting Monday, council members asked him why he was canceling their membership in the New York Conference of Mayors while adding a position to his office.
He said the city couldn’t afford NYCOM’s $12,000 annual cost. Cutting it “reflects the level of austerity we’re going through,” he said.
McCarthy also cut all conferences and training by 10 percent, as well as canceling membership in the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Council members weren’t happy to lose the memberships — Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard noted that she calls the agencies regularly to get policy information and that NYCOM lobbies the state on Schenectady’s behalf.
But Councilman Thomas Della Sala praised McCarthy for cutting back on the most criticized part of the mayor’s office budget — the mayor’s discretionary line.
Under Mayor Brian U. Stratton, the office had a $90,000 discretionary line. McCarthy cut that to $11,500.
The budget also does not include the cost of a cellphone for the mayor — saving $800 — and a city car, saving $4,100.
McCarthy is also giving back to the city all of the money he makes performing marriages, at an estimated $1,500 a year. With that, he argued that the total savings in his office was $24,800 — nearly the same as the new secretary. He also cut the part-time position that had been in the 2011 budget, saving $7,800.
With the second secretary, he wants to better organize the city’s response to complaints.
“We were still using the old method of handwriting notes [from phone calls]. I had that computerized,” he said.
Now calls are tracked in an Excel spreadsheet. His goal is to make city operations more efficient by having each complaint tracked just once.
Currently, residents call several different city offices and, often, all seven council members in an effort to get their problem resolved. As each council member tries to check on the progress of the complaint, department heads can get bogged down fielding those calls.
Or, McCarthy said, the reverse happens — everyone assumes that someone else is handling it.
“And then you don’t get any follow-up at all,” he said.
Council members have a month to decide how they would like to change McCarthy’s proposed budget. Their next meeting on the budget is Thursday at 4 p.m., when they will discuss the Bureau of Service.
Council members also got their first look at the hidden costs of Hurricane Irene on Monday.
The city may have to completely rebuild the North Ferry Street sewer pump station, Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said.
The walls were badly damaged when the river rose and swept past the building.
Years ago, city workers added storm doors to the building to help protect it. Those stood up to the storm. But the walls around them failed, McCarthy said.
If the city has to rebuild, it may elevate the new building above the flood plain, or install the pumps higher in the building. The pumps stopped working after being flooded, and crews worked for hours to get them running again.
The city may also have to remove debris hidden below the Stockade streets.
The sewage and stormwater pipes seem unusually full, Olsen said. There’s usually at least a foot of clearance between the top of the water and the top of the pipes, but now water is filling the pipes.
That indicates that there’s a blockage somewhere — thick river mud or tree limbs stuck in the pipes, he said.
The City Council agreed in committee to hire MJ Engineering and Land Surveying to determine the problem.
FEMA may reimburse the city for most of its expenses in both rebuilding the pump station and fixing the pipes.
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