The city of Schenectady usually doesn’t find itself in this position — sitting on a pot of money.
It’s an opportunity the city can’t waste, either by being too frivolous with the money and wasting it, or by being too conservative, sitting on it, and not addressing the city’s problems, which includes high taxes.
In the wake of the covid economic crisis that threatened local government budgets with a significant decline in tax revenue, the city was the beneficiary of more than $53 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan (The city has already received half of it and will get the other half next year.)
Mayor Gary McCarthy’s proposed $97.4 million budget for 2021-22 went the conservative route, holding the line on taxes and not getting too crazy with the spending, offering a 10% increase that includes refilling some of the jobs that were cut as a result of the pandemic, supporting police and addressing gun violence.
In all, according to McCarthy’s spending plan, the city plans to use $4.5 million of the windfall, which will help prevent an increase in the tax rate. The mayor said he is continuing discussions with city neighborhoods on the use of the federal funding.
With all that money on hand and no specific use for most of it yet identified, it will be up to the citizens to help guide the City Council.
This is a rare opportunity to set the direction for the future that citizens shouldn’t pass up.
They’ll have that opportunity starting Tuesday, when the City Council’s Finance Committee holds the first of three scheduled budget hearings. The other two will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 19, and Wednesday, Oct. 20. All run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The hearings will be held in person in Room 110 at City Hall (with limited attendance), and on video conference through WebEx.
The city will have to be judicious in the use of the money.
The city can definitely spend some of it on infrastructure, including water, sewer and broadband.
But what restrictions are there on the money for other uses, such as removing vacant, rundown properties, increasing resources for police or economic development?
Could some of that money be used or manipulated in a way that the city could reduce the city’s high property taxes?
If the city spends the money on new hires, can it afford to keep those employees on the payroll after the windfall dries up?
City residents need to be prepared to offer their ideas.
This is so important for the future of the city that residents would be hurting themselves if they fail to take an active and vocal role in guiding city officials.
A copy of the mayor’s proposed budget is available online at: https://www.cityofschenectady.com/DocumentCenter/View/3755/2022-budget-pdf-master.