SCHENECTADY — City workers can head into the weekend with a sense of cautious optimism:
The City Council has forged a plan that would avert the job cuts outlined in Mayor Gary McCarthy’s proposed 2021 spending plan.
Amid a $10.1 million shortfall, McCarthy proposed cutting 63 jobs, 47 of which are currently vacant, measures that would save $3 million.
Yet lawmakers are optimistic about the prospects for a federal aid package, and have reinstated $1.6 million in discretionary state aid McCarthy had zeroed out.
“Let’s be honest: We know we’re going to get money,” said city Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo.
The amended spending plan passed out of the Finance Committee on Thursday. McCarthy has veto power over the budget, but the council can override the veto if five council members vote to do so.
Perazzo, City Council President John Mootooveren and City Council members Ed Kosiur and Marion Porterfield said they were supportive of the amended budget, which now heads for a vote on Monday.
Revenues have taken a nosedive as a result of the pandemic, and the state has reduced aid to local governments by 20 percent.
Localities statewide continue to pine for a federal relief package despite a prolonged impasse in Washington.
The tentative plan dealt a significant blow to McCarthy, who had countered that his spending proposal was balanced and prudent in a time of fiscal uncertainty, and that belt-tightening would only be temporary.
“They’re making some creative assumptions there, which I think are flawed,” McCarthy said on Friday. “But we’ll see what they do Monday.”
Lawmakers also halved proposed hikes in residential trash fees from $50 to $25.
Altogether, lawmakers boosted revenue by $395,796 and used those projections to offset the tax levy, knocking McCarthy’s proposed property tax increase down from 2.82 percent to 1.48 percent.
Total general fund spending now clocks in at $88.5 million, up $1 million from McCarthy’s proposal.
The tentative deal comes after two weeks of budget workshops in which virtually every department head said the austerity plan would further burden their already-skeletal operations.
Few would be more affected than the city code enforcement bureau, which would be forced to lay off two code enforcement officers, a clerk and an assistant building inspector while leaving three additional vacancies unfilled.
Lawmakers said hiking taxes while reducing services at the same time wasn’t a good look.
“To cut now an additional 16 positions I just think puts us in a very, very bad place,” said Porterfield, “and not a place we should try to go and still maintain all the services that we’re providing to our community while on top of that, trying to increase taxes and the garbage collection fee.”
Finance Committee Chairman John Polimeni disagreed.
“I think a more solid approach in my view is hopefully get state and federal funding and then put some [positions] back with budget amendments so we’re not putting ourselves in a position where we could really be hurting ourselves by perhaps overestimating what we may be getting,” Polimeni said.
Mootooveren said lawmakers could have gone higher than $1.6 million, but wanted to be cautious.
“Let’s be a little bit more conservative in the numbers,” Mootooveren said.
Lawmakers also restored $40,000 in proposed cuts to summer youth programming.
And amid concerns by residents over chronic speeding, lawmakers reinstated $113,000 for speed cameras in school zones, as well as budgeted $20,000 for speed “humps,” or traffic-slowing devices that are lower and more narrow than speed bumps.
“We’re tired of waiting,” Kosiur said. “This is an item we truly need in our school zones.”
Other efforts to chip away at expenses fell flat, including proposals to reduce department stipends by City Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, as well as city Councilwoman Carmel Patrick’s proposals to use high school students and volunteers as crossing guards and close the city Clerk’s Office for one day per week to allow the office to catch up on backlogs.