Spending up, taxes down in Schenectady mayor’s proposed 2020 budget

Mayor Gary McCarthy presented his proposed 2020 city budget to the Schenectady City Council on Monday afternoon.
Mayor Gary McCarthy presented his proposed 2020 city budget to the Schenectady City Council on Monday afternoon.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Mayor Gary McCarthy presented his $89.4 million proposed 2020 budget to City Council members on Monday. 

The proposed spending plan contains a slight 0.46 percent property tax cut for taxpayers.

McCarthy also included a pay bump for himself, from his current $96,700 annual salary to $112,485 — a 16 percent increase. 

If adopted by the City Council, it would mark the fifth consecutive tax reduction, or 6.9 percent overall, since 2015.

“Our city has undergone an enormous transformation over the past decade,” McCarthy said. 

The mayor’s proposed 2020 tax rate is $12.92 per $1,000 in assessed value, down 6 cents from the current fiscal year. 

Despite the cut, McCarthy is proposing a 3 percent spending increase. 

Big ticket items include funds for a new parks director and Schenectady Neighborhood Assistance Program foreman, both of which are designed to address disintegrating city-owned infrastructure and map out strategies for future usage and community engagement. 

McCarthy requested a total of $1.1 million for property management — up roughly $241,000 over this year’s adopted budget. 

And as the city continues its war against blight and fends off complaints from residents about poorly-maintained vacant city-owned property, the mayor is asking for a $183,000 boost.

Funds could be utilized in-house or for independent contractors.

Waste recycling costs have also increased and the proposed spending plan asks for a $139,160 increase over this year’s budget. 

McCarthy’s plan offers slight bumps for most of the city’s departments, including police and fire.

The proposed Police Department budget is $19.9 million, an increase of approximately $182,000 over this year’s budget. 

The city Fire Department would get $11.2 million, up roughly $52,000 over this year.

The total spending plan, including sewer, water and golf course funds, is $112,397,334.

User fees for water, sewer and trash pickup will be kept flat. 

The proposed tax levy is $30.6 million.

Officials said numerous trends are in the city’s favor, including a projected increase of casino revenue of $265,000 to $2.9 million and an increase in total taxable value for the city, which is projected to be $2.37 billion in 2020 — up roughly $10.2 million. 

City Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari said the uptick will allow for a more even distribution of the tax levy, and is paired with increasing property values. 

“It’s a great thing,” Ferrari said.

McCarthy said while the city’s economic development team has been successful in bolstering downtown, a sustained focus for the coming year is to stabilize the city’s neighborhoods, home to $96 million in investment and ongoing construction projects. 

Aggressively tackling blight will be another focus, he said, noting 30 buildings have been taken down in the city this year as a result of a partnership with the Capital Region Land Bank and additional stakeholders.

Despite the upbeat forecast, the mayor flagged several challenges, including rising prescription drug costs.

McCarthy allocated $12.5 million for those costs, up from $10.9 million this year, and a 52 percent increase over 2018. 

“It’s something we have to work at everyday to look for mechanisms to contain our health care costs,” McCarthy said.

The mayor also said the formula used by the state to calculate aid for local governments has left the city at a disadvantage compared to several of their upstate counterparts, including Troy and Utica.

McCarthy and city Signals Superintendent John Coluccio asked for an additional $2 million capital allocation for the Smart Cities initiative. 

The city is currently installing fiber optics in Mont Pleasant to expand its wi-fi networks, and is working with National Grid to outfit as many as 4,400 street lights using LED technology. 

Switching to LED lights with smart dimmers and timers can reduce energy expenses and allow for better control, allowing light to be dimmed during off-hours or adjusted based on real-time data. 

At the same time, the new units will allow the city to co-locate sensors which have multiple applications. 

In addition to sensors designed to monitor traffic patterns, McCarthy announced on Monday several poles will include “acoustic sensors for gunshot detection that will immediately alert law enforcement.”

Chief Eric Clifford said those will be concentrated primarily on Central State Street, Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill.

“I think it will make a difference in neighborhoods where we’re deploying them,” Clifford said on Monday. “It will improve response time significantly.” 

The City Council will now review McCarthy’s proposed budget and possibly make adjustments.

“It’s great to have the tax cut,” said Finance Committee Chairman John Polimeni. “I believe we’re the only community in New York state to have five straight tax cuts. The rest of the budget we’ll be going over as a [City] Council to do our due diligence.”

The city has until Nov. 1 to adopting the spending plan.

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