Schenectady department heads: Budget cutbacks would further stress already-stretched departments



SCHENECTADY — Dog catchers, code enforcement officers, a part-time Bingo inspector:

All are on the chopping block.

Now it’s up to City Council to make modifications to Mayor Gary McCarthy’s proposed austerity plan and determine the extent of the hurt.

Virtually all departments would require a degree of belt-tightening.

The City Clerk’s Office is running a skeletal operation, and the mayor’s proposed budget would reduce spending in that office by an additional 18 percent, primarily by leaving a clerical aide position unfilled.

There are already two part-time positions that have remained unmanned since last year, city Clerk Samanta Mykoo told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The vacancies may mean it will take longer for residents to obtain a marriage certificate, for instance, or request a birth certificate.

Bottlenecks are already emerging as a result of the manpower shortage. “The direct impact is that revenue generated by this office will be reduced,” Mykoo said.

Some services could possibly be moved online, but would likely result in increased start-up costs and potential long-term fees for third-party vendors, Mykoo said.

There were few points of friction during the two-hour workshop, the first of three scheduled sessions before the City Council is required to adopt a spending plan by Nov. 1.

Paired with fewer services and a proposed $50 increase in residential trash collection fees, McCarthy’s proposed budget also calls for fewer dog control officers, crossing guards, code enforcement inspectors, police officers, firefighters, attorneys and clerks that make the city run.

“It’s not a good scenario,” McCarthy said.

Lawmakers primarily trained their line of questioning on how the cutbacks would affect operations and services, and what additional savings could be found.

“We’re lean to begin with,” said city Fire Department Chief Ray Senecal, who would lose a principal account clerk under the proposed cutbacks — one of just three at the department, and one who has been engaged in developing telemedicine efforts.

Seven firefighter positions would remain unfilled.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us, there’s no question,” Senecal said.

McCarthy’s proposed $87.5 million spending plan would cut 63 jobs in all, 47 of which are currently vacant.

The city’s Law Office would remain without a third attorney, a position city Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin has said is much-needed, and the filling of which has been a priority since he took office in January.

Additionally, Koldin’s confidential secretary would be laid off under the proposal.

City Councilman Ed Kosiur said he’d fight to prevent layoffs at the city Clerk’s and Law offices.

“I think these positions are very, very important,” he said.

Again and again, department heads said staff reductions would further stress already barebones operations.

Despite the grim scenario, there was a sliver of light:

City Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari revised the city’s deficit from $12 million to $10.1 million.

But the bad: The city started the year with $11.4 million in unreserved fund balance, a number scheduled to drop to $41,424 by the end of the year.

In blunt terms, the city is nearly flat broke, and resorted to borrowing $7 million last month just to cover expenses and cash flow.

City Hall cycled through 12 different scenarios before arriving at the current austerity plan, Ferrari said.

“In 22 years of doing budgets, this is the hardest one we’ve ever done,” Ferrari said.

Altogether, the proposed job cuts amount to $3 million in savings.

At the same time, McCarthy is seeking to raise additional revenue by asking homeowners to shoulder a 2.82 percent property tax increase, reversing a five-year trend that has reduced taxes by 8 percent since 2015.

If approved by lawmakers, the increase would generate an additional $1.1 million over this year’s tax levy for a total of $31.4 million.

McCarthy said officials have methodically gone through the spending plan and stripped out everything possible.

Lawmakers asked how much would be saved if management and non-union employees took a 10-percent pay cut.

The answer: $289,037, according to Ferrari.

But doing so would likely dent morale, and perhaps cause friction between supervisors and staff, he said.

“It’d be very difficult for some of these managers to take a 10-percent pay cut,” Ferrari said. “I think a lot of them would leave.”

Furloughing all city staff except for police, fire and AFSCME Local 1037 workers, or those employed at the city’s Bureau of Services Department, for one day each month would result in $343,900 in savings.

The savings would be $638,516 if those same employees were furloughed for one week every three months, or 21 days.

Lawmakers also probed more obscure positions.

McCarthy recommended the city’s part-time Bingo inspector position be eliminated.

The position, which pays $12,879 annually, is state-mandated, and must observe all games in the city, Mykoo said.

Ferrari said keeping the position didn’t justify the scant revenue, which equates to roughly half of the position’s salary.

But lawmakers wondered how games would be able to proceed once pandemic restrictions are lifted without an inspector, who must arrive at events 30 minutes early and sit through their entire duration.

“If we’re putting it in the revenue line, we need someone who takes care of those particular duties,” said Councilwoman Marion Porterfield.

Under the spending plan, the city would also go from three animal control officer positions to one, and five crossing guard positions would be cut.

Discussion was structured around questions submitted by lawmakers to Finance Committee Chairman John Polimeni ahead of time.

Among the departments that would be most dramatically affected by cutbacks is the city’s Codes Department.

McCarthy’s proposal would lay off two code officers, a clerk and an assistant building inspector while leaving three additional vacancies unfilled.

That would leave the department with just eight code enforcement officers, three administrative staff and an electrical inspector.

Despite the deep cuts to a department that underwent much-publicized reforms following the fatal 2015 Jay Street fire — as well as one on the front lines of curbing chronic quality-of-life complaints — no lawmaker pursued a line of inquiry or otherwise raised the issue, nor did anyone ask city Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn to detail how the cuts would affect his department.

City Fire and Police departments also presented their capital budget requests.

Schenectady Police Department is seeking $1.2 million in capital expenditures, including $744,000 for 10 new patrol cruisers; $115,000 for 45 Tasers, and $223,000 for new gear, including body cameras, in-car video systems and computer equipment.

Under the proposed spending plan, city police would keep nine patrol officer positions open, bringing the department down to 151 officers, while a crime analyst would be laid off.

The plan suggests delaying the purchase of 32 speed signs in school zones, which carry a $113,000 price tag, until 2022.

Budget talks continue on Thursday and again on Oct. 20.

Correction 10/15 11:33 a.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the city Clerk’s Office collects taxes. The city’s Bureau of Receipts collects taxes, not the city Clerk’s Office. 

More: Everything new from The Daily Gazette Thursday, Oct. 15

Categories: News, Schenectady County

FJ COLACINO October 16, 2020
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Fortunately, we painted and paid for the street art before money got really tight. That was a critical expenditure!

FRED BARNEY October 15, 2020
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Since we are already a sanctuary state for illegals why not become a sanctuary city for drug dealers and users. This would shift the cost of the drug laws on to the state and the feds and thus save the city a considerable amount of money!

Ellie Pepper October 15, 2020
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Let’s talk about the nearly $900,000 for new police cars and additional tasers. And how about the more $70,000 in raises for the Police Chief and the three Assitant Police Chiefs that the mayor claims can’t be reduced because of a city code. At a time when there are people in our city that don’t have enough food, can’t afford a safe place to live, and can’t afford the most basic healthcare why are we talking about this kind of spending? We can’t afford to fund a summer youth employment program or properly staff the fire department or ensure we have proper equipment and staffing to keep our streets clean and plowed in the winter but we can buy 16 (that is the actual SPD wants to buy) new police vehicles? It seems like our priorities are warped.

PEGGY LANGILLE October 15, 2020
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well I’d have to say that if 32 speed signs are going to cost $113,000 that need to be put more than on hold!! That comes in at $3531.25 per sign!! That is unconscionable!!! That price is totally unacceptable!! Find a new vendor to order the signs from! Have the town of Rotterdam make the signs in there sign shop… You really don’t have to wonder why this city is BROKE!!! Just take a look at the wasted money that is being spent!!!!!

FJ COLACINO October 15, 2020
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“The direct impact is that revenue generated by this office will be reduced,” Mykoo said. It’s telling that this is the primary fallout concern by City employees when staff cuts are mentioned – not safety, not service to residents – revenue. So, it really is just about the money, and the rest are just the storyline?

FRED BARNEY October 15, 2020
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“It’d be very difficult for some of these managers to take a 10-percent pay cut,” Ferrari said. “I think a lot of them would leave.”

So? Life has been tough for many people. If cost reductions can be obtained without lay offs a lot of people will be happy!