SCHENECTADY — Amid the ongoing financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the city is staring at cuts to garbage collection, street sweeping, police, fire and other services “across the board.”
“It’s just devastating cuts,” said city Mayor Gary McCarthy. “Schenectady is that example of a true renaissance community where it’s coming back. We were really doing great things here and in mid-March, it all collapsed.”
McCarthy was joined on Monday by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who made a brief visit to City Hall to highlight the mounting fiscal crisis faced by localities across the state amid a free fall in tax revenue.
Schumer called for the Republican-led Senate to immediately pass a relief package for local governments upon its return from summer recess.
“If they don’t get the money, what will happen is very simple: There will be lots of layoffs of people who, through no fault of their own, can’t get paid because the governments don’t have enough money,” Schumer said.
Schenectady faces a $12 million budgetary shortfall. The situation is similarly dire across the Capital Region, including the city of Albany, which is grappling with a $19 million hole; Troy, which is anticipating $9.5 million in lost revenue, and Schenectady County, which is facing a $16 million deficit.
The decreased revenues are paired with an increased need in social services, said county officials, and local taxpayers can’t absorb any reductions in state aid.
“There’s no precedent, and we haven’t seen anything like this in modern times,” said county Legislature Deputy Chairman Philip Fields.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed a relief package weeks ago.
Schumer criticized U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, for the Senate’s inaction, and said cuts to government services will be deeper felt in the Capital Region due to its role as the center of state government.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous when faced with numbers like this the Senate will refuse to act,” said Schumer, who called the bill passed by the Democratic-led house last month “generous and flexible.”
Congress adjourned last week for a two-week recess and will resume July 20.
Lawmakers previously passed four bipartisan relief bills totaling about $3 trillion.
Senate Republicans, however, have held off on offering support to state and local governments. McConnell previously dismissed a relief package as a “blue state bailout” and has opted to take a wait-and-see approach based on how quickly the economy recovers.
McConnell said last week he wanted the package to include liability protections for schools and businesses, the Washington Post reported, and wanted to keep costs under $1 trillion.
Schumer urged local officials to continue to lobby senators and White House.
McCarthy in early-May warned of drastic reductions in police and fire personnel, including slashing between 30 and 40 officers, or roughly 25 percent of the force.
Those cuts have yet to materialize. The mayor has instead opted to implement a hiring freeze and has reined in oversight of all purchase orders.
But absent a federal aid package, McCarthy envisions enacting reductions by the end of the month.
“I’m holding back for this moving target, which was going to be the first of June, and now we’re talking about the end of July,” McCarthy said. “I hope we get some assistance so we don’t have to make those cuts.”
Schumer noted an expanding coalition of bi-partisan organizations are getting behind a relief package, including the National Governor’s Association co-chaired by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which has called for $500 billion in relief,
Projected casino revenue constitutes $1.7 million of the city’s shortfall.
McCarthy said he was hopeful Rivers Casino & Resort would open in the “near future,” noting officials have assembled a “very, detailed, appropriate plan to maintain social distancing and minimize the potential contamination” of patrons.