Schenectady County

Schenectady council adopts 2012 budget

The City Council unanimously approved acting Mayor Gary McCarthy’s first budget Friday, making essen

The City Council unanimously approved acting Mayor Gary McCarthy’s first budget Friday, making essentially no changes in the spending plan.

It includes what Councilman Thomas Della Sala called “optimistic” revenue projections — including selling far more foreclosed houses than ever before and getting much more money for them than the city has gotten in the past.

But Della Sala said other, more conservative revenue estimates balanced out the risks in the more optimistic numbers.

He praised McCarthy for not including “a lot of silliness” and “fluff” in the budget, saying it was far better than the previous three years’ budgets. “This budget did not have a lot of gimmicks in it that we had to play hide ’n’ seek to find,” Della Sala said.

The council voted 7-0, with McCarthy casting a vote even though he will also sign the budget as mayor.

The plan will spend $79.2 million, up from $77.4 million this year. It includes a 1.89 percent tax increase — a rate of $13.33 per $1,000 of assessed property — and double-digit increases in fees for garbage collection, sewer and water.

For a homeowner with the average house, assessed at $100,000, taxes would go up $24, to $1,333.

Most property owners will also pay $24 more for garbage collection, $22.92 more for sewer and $20.64 more for water. That means the average homeowner would see a total increase of $91.56 next year.

City Council members wanted to reduce the budget by at least $1 million, but said they found it was already cut to the bone. Last year’s layoffs left them with little wiggle room, they said — and the lack of workers has left the city so tight that council members briefly considered hiring more employees for next year.

The budget adds a number of new fees, but city officials have not yet released details.

Police will start fining property owners for loud parties, rather than simply asking them to quiet down. It’s not clear how much that fine will be, but the budget estimated $10,000 will be collected over the next year.

The city will collect another $10,000 in fees for paramedic service. The amount of that fee also has not been announced, but it is designed to discourage those who call about minor problems. Firefighters have been called to houses by residents who have lost their television remotes, for example, or who want ambulance service for medical issues so minor that McCarthy called them “stubbed toes.”

The city will also start changing a fee for towing. Until now, vehicle owners had to pay the towing company for the tow, but did not have to pay a separate fee to the city for parking illegally or blocking plows during a snowstorm. Albany has charged a towing fee for years.

Again, the amount of the fee has not yet been announced, but the budget estimated that the city would collect $50,000 next year.

Those fees have been met with some approval, but politicians running against the all-Democrat council have criticized McCarthy’s budget estimates for its housing initiatives. The budget estimated that the city will get $300,000 in back taxes by getting new homeowners to buy the houses with delinquent taxes. Key Bank and NBT Bank are offering programs to encourage new owners to buy houses that need some repair, since most of the city’s abandoned houses need work.

Mayoral candidate Roger Hull has called the budget unrealistic because of such estimates. “The things that are just plugged in that are just hopes and not based on reality,” he said.

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