The Schenectady City Council voted Monday to use money from the city’s general fund to pay for a new contract with the police union.
The decision came less than a week after the city’s finance commissioner proposed paying for $1.6 million in unanticipated contract expenses using a portion of a casino licensing fee allocated to Schenectady. At Monday night’s meeting, the council approved a budget amendment, in a vote of 5-1, that allows the city to tap the city’s general fund to cover the police contract costs.
Several councilors said the casino money should only be used to reduce taxes.
“We made promises, and we have to keep our promises to the taxpayer,” said Councilman John Mootooveren.
The city recently received a $2.5 million licensing fee associated with the new Rivers Casino & Resort on Mohawk Harbor, which is scheduled to open in early 2017.
In June, the city reached a deal with the Police Benevolent Association on a contract that includes a retroactive raise of 2 percent for 2014 and 2015, as well as a 2 percent raise in 2017. But the city did not anticipate settlement of the contract — or the associated $1.6 million in additional expenses — in its 2016 budget.
Several councilors campaigned on the idea the casino licensing fee revenue, which was not included in the 2016 budget, would be used to relieve the burden on taxpayers, said Council President Leesa Perazzo, adding that she’s committed to at least a 5 percent tax decrease in the 2017 budget.
Councilman John Polimeni was the only councilor to vote against using money from the general fund for the new labor agreement, though he said he’s in favor of cutting taxes immediately. Instead, he suggested using the casino money and leaving the general fund intact would strengthen the city’s bond rating, leading to larger tax cuts and economic growth.
“This will give us a long-term period of tax cuts versus instant gratification,” he said.
Vince Riggi, who supported using the casino money during last week’s committee meeting, voted Monday in favor of using the general fund money.
“This is kind of semantics as far as where this money is coming from,” he said, adding that expenses for the PBA agreement need to be covered one way or another.
The city will likely need to address a similar issue when it reaches a new contract with its fire department, City Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari said at last week’s committee meeting.