SCHENECTADY — Schenectady City Councilman John Polimeni criticized the council’s 2022 output during a year in review speech at the council’s meeting on Dec. 27.
Near the conclusion of the Tuesday night meeting in the miscellaneous business portion of the session, Polimeni expressed his dissatisfaction with the board’s production over the past 12 months.
“So we finished another year on the council and it was interesting to go back and look at what’s been accomplished or what’s not been accomplished,” he said during the meeting. “We’ve heard a lot about solutions and quite frankly, this year has not been very successful in my opinion for the council in getting things done.”
Polimeni noted that while the council passed the 2023 budget in October, the spending plan will lead to fee increases in the new year.
Polimeni and Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro cast dissenting votes against the $103 million budget, which includes a $6.50 increase annually for water fees and a $12.60 rise in sewer fees.
The approved 2023 budget utilized a portion of the city’s $10.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that had been set aside by the city to fund lost revenue in city budgets.
“We’ve been told that magically $10.5 million of ARPA money was found, which was right there from the beginning in front of everybody’s face,” Polimeni said. “It wasn’t found. We’re using that to pay for staff. Well we’re going to have to account for that money in the budget and we’re going to have to account for other expenses in the budget. Unless we generate some major revenue, which I know the mayor is diligently working on continuously, this budget is just not going to lead to long-term success in this city. We’re going to have to increase taxes and fees.”
Polimeni contends that the $25.9 million the council awarded over the summer to 33 community projects could have been used more effectively. The council member cast the lone dissenting vote against the ARPA expenditures in September.
“I would have liked to have seen us use the ARPA money a lot more wisely,” he said on Thursday. “Dealing with things like infrastructure and roads. Addressing issues like parks, some of which were accomplished. Definitely sidewalks and roads are a big issue. There are capital projects the money could have been used for and instead we’ll end up borrowing that money. That will eventually cost the city taxpayers with an increase in taxes.”
Polimeni also noted during the meeting that following a town hall-style forum held on Dec. 1 to address rising rent costs, no legislative solutions have been presented by the council.
Polimeni, who is opposed to any potential rent stabilization legislation, noted that 20% of the housing units in the city are considered affordable housing.
“There’s a need for more, but we’re going in the right direction,” he said on Thursday.
During the Dec. 27 meeting, Polimeni urged the public to participate in their local government via a unique method.
“I would encourage people to pay attention to what’s happening at these meetings,” he said. “You can make it fun and make a drinking game out of it when you hear the keywords that are said routinely at committee or council meetings, such as ‘sustainable,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘solutions not problems’ or ‘intentionality.’ Take a shot every time. You’ll be blitzed by the end of the meeting.”
Following Polimeni’s remarks during the meeting, Council President Marion Porterfield responded to his critiques.
“I want to thank the council members who fully participated during the year and worked towards getting things solved and getting solutions, as opposed to figuring out ways to be obstructionist,” she said. “It was a challenging year, however we still were able to get things accomplished regardless of how things were put forward. Was it the smoothest ride? It was not.”
Porterfield defended the council’s ARPA awards, which went to local agencies, including the Schenectady Greenmarket and the Electric City Food Cooperative.
“We need to support our community-based agencies,” Porterfield said during the meeting. “They are the groups who serve the most vulnerable in our population who we say we care so much about. We support agencies who make sure they do that. There are people who don’t agree with everything and that’s understandable, but what I would say is that we can disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable.”