Finances were a key issue in a candidate debate Tuesday night between incumbent Mayor Ann Thane and challenger Joseph Emanuele III, a former mayor.
The pair met in the Riverfront Center for the 90-minute exchange of ideas and criticism aired on local radio station WCSS 1490 AM.
The debate was sponsored by the Recorder newspaper, with editor Charlie Kraebel asking questions of the candidates.
The debate started off with opening statements in which Emanuele, a Republican who served as mayor from 2004-07, told the audience he’d retire from his job as a math teacher in June 2012 if elected — leaving the city with a part-time mayor for six months.
Emanuele said the city “needs to live within its means” and promised “we will cut spending” if he’s elected.
Thane, a Democrat, asked the audience to notice the “stark contrast” between her accomplishments and Emanuele’s and between their records of service and management style.
Thane said despite the difficult financial situation municipalities have seen over the past four years, the city under her administration has obtained more than $20 million in grants, added $1 million in revenue, reined in overtime costs and put an end to nepotism by advertising all open positions.
Thane and Emanuele sparred over the city’s fund balance. Emanuele said when he left office, the city had $3.39 million in fund balance. He alleged Thane is responsible for spending that money irresponsibly.
“I probably would have preserved that rather than spending it down. … I would have had more fiscal responsibility,” Emanuele said.
But Thane took issue with Emanuele’s figure, calling it “fantasy.”
When she took office as Emanuele left, Thane said, she learned the city had not been putting money aside for taxes that couldn’t be collected — an $800,000 lesson learned when the city put delinquent properties up for auction. Then the city learned there was a $500,000 accounting error — health care benefit premiums were left out of the budget by the controller, she said.
Thane said reductions in state aid, drops in mortgage recording and sales tax revenues left the city with way less than Emanuele’s suggestion.
“Really, that $3 million never was there,” Thane said.
Both candidates differed when asked about City Hall, the Sanford Mansion on Church Street given to the city.
Emanuele said he’d sell it if the deal was good, Thane said it’s an irreplaceable part of the city’s history.
“For the right price, anything is worth selling,” Emanuele said.
He criticized the city government for not using $100,000 that he believed was set aside for repairing the roof on the old mansion when he left office.
But Thane said when she got into office, there was $63,000 in the budget for building upkeep, money had been spent already on things not involving the roof. An estimate for the roof repairs, Thane said, was $200,000 and the lack of sufficient maintenance plans led to the boiler blowing up in the basement.
“We put it off until it became an emergency,” Thane said.
Over the past four years, Thane said the city has made strides in upgrading City Hall while saving money by changing to energy efficient light fixtures.
And she said the city shouldn’t consider selling the historic mansion. “There is no right price that we can put on our heritage.”
The candidates were asked what cuts could be made to accommodate tax limits including the state’s tax cap.
Emanuele said, “You have to be very creative in looking at the city budget.”
He said layoffs should be the “ultimate last resort,” but said the city has to “go to employees” to look for savings. He criticized the city’s recent contract with the police union and the lack of provisions detailing a process for layoffs, something he said other governments are putting in contracts.
“Everywhere else they are making these tough, hard decisions,” Emanuele said.
Thane said in her perspective, union negotiations have been fair.
She said the police union agreed to no raise next year and 2 percent pay increases in the two ensuing years.
Thane said to lessen the taxpayer burden, she would pursue savings such as the $700,000 the city gained last year switching health insurance carriers. And making sure the city stays involved and active in the Mohawk Valley Economic Development Council is another way to try to get more for the city.
Emanuele said one idea to increase revenue is to consider expanding the city’s water reservoir so that more would be available to sell. “I think our water’s our biggest asset at this point,” Emanuele said.
The two differed greatly when the topic of the city’s aging infrastructure came up.
Emanuele said to address it, the city should get aggressive in grant-writing. “It all comes down to planning,” said Emanuele, who would prefer the state redirect money planned for a pedestrian bridge over the Mohawk River toward improving the city’s water and sewer lines.
Thane said when she took over after Emanuele, there was no plan at all for improving the city’s infrastructure. The situation was “readily apparent” when several buildings burned to the ground in 2009 as firefighters worked furiously to find hydrants that were working.
Since then, the city has poured millions into infrastructure through grants, Thane said.
The two also differed over whether the mayor should be involved in marketing the city, a task Thane has made a priority during the past four years.
“I don’t think the job of the mayor is to market the city,” Emanuele said.
Thane was critical of that response, contending it was Emanuele who eliminated the city’s community and economic development department altogether, leaving no clear leader in charge of marketing.
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Categories: Schenectady County