SCHENECTADY — The City Council approved a budget on Monday that staved off the job cuts contained in Mayor Gary McCarthy’s proposed 2021 spending plan.
The $88.5 million spending plan carries a property tax increase of 1.7 percent, which is less than the 2.82 percent proposed by McCarthy, and the first increase for homeowners in five years.
Lawmakers boosted projected sales tax revenues by $494,913 to $13,494,313 to partially offset the increase, citing a sunnier forecast from county officials.
“County folks are telling us sales tax revenues have bounced back better than anticipated,” said Finance Committee Chairman John Polimeni.
City Council voted unanimously 7-0 to approve the spending plan, which officials acknowledged was the most difficult they’ve ever crafted.
“It was not an easy task,” said City Council President John Mootooveren.
Revenues have cratered as a result of the pandemic, and the state has reduced aid to local governments by 20 percent.
Amid a $10.1 million deficit, the city borrowed $7 million to make payroll. And while the city started the year with $11.4 million in unreserved fund balance, the number is scheduled to drop to $41,424 by the end of the year.
McCarthy acknowledged the plan is heavily reliant on a federal aid package that is uncertain as the country hurdles towards Election Day.
“We’re still basing it on some federal assistance, so a lot depends on what happens on Tuesday,” McCarthy said after the meeting.
Lawmakers last week reinstated $1.6 million in discretionary state aid McCarthy had zeroed out when he rolled out his plan on Oct. 1, a measure that staved off 16 job cuts.
The approved plan revises that number to $1.43 million and shifts it over to anticipated federal funds — not state aid, a measure that would ensure the city would get a larger chunk of funds should Washington cobble together a federal relief package, Polimeni said.
“It’s an important distinction,” Polimeni said. “By putting in a federal COVID-19 assistance line [item], we’re likely to get the full amount from a federal stimulus package.”
Lawmakers said avoiding layoffs was critical.
“I’m very happy to maintain positions for all of our employees,” said city Councilwoman Marion Porterfield. “During this difficult time in a pandemic, we don’t want anyone to be without employment.”
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, from the code enforcement bureau to the city Assessment, Law and Clerk’s Offices.
Forty-seven vacant positions, including nine police officers and seven firefighters, will remain unfilled.
“If we get assistance at the level we would like, I’d like to be able to fill those positions,” McCarthy said, who added he would not veto the spending plan, the details of which officials continued to negotiate well into Monday.
McCarthy and other councilmembers said residents should continue to push for federal aid.
“It’s critical that city residents keep up the pressure with our U.S. representatives — with phone calls and emails —advocating for this federal relief,” said Councilwoman Carmel Patrick.
The approved budget increased the annual residential trash fee by $25, from $224 to $249 (not the $50 McCarthy proposed) and includes $2 million in capital funding for the buildout of a municipal Wi-Fi network, work that was stalled after lawmakers spiked funding back in April as a precautionary measure.
“I’m happy to say this year, although not perfect, I think the [City] Council actually did their work in regards to the budget, and I’m very relieved by that,” said city Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo.
Lawmakers also restored $40,000 in proposed cuts to summer youth programming, and approved $113,000 for speed cameras in school zones.