To say that it’s been a difficult budget year for localities would surely be an understatement. Still, the leaders of most of this region’s cities and towns have managed to come up with budget proposals that wouldn’t raise taxes much beyond the nearly dormant rate of inflation. Then there’s Schenectady, where Mayor Brian Stratton has just unveiled a budget that would not only raise taxes 5.8 percent but would cut the city’s cash-flow cushion in half at a time that it badly needs bolstering. What gives?
Stratton trots out the usual suspects — the rising cost of employee benefits and pensions — but all municipal leaders have these to deal with. There’s also $1.2 million in added debt service — thanks in large part to the $20 million garage/office/salt storage edifice being built for the Bureau of Service on Foster Avenue. Was it really necessary?
There’s also the annual tax lien sale: The city has netted more than $20 million from these since Stratton took office, but the company that’s been buying them all these years — and collecting on 98 percent of the delinquencies — has been gradually reducing how much it will pay. This year, it slashed the amount from 92 cents on the dollar to just 77! Understandably, the city is looking for a better deal elsewhere, but maybe it should resume its own collections and stop sharing this wealth.
Stratton is right that a 5.8 percent tax hike would be intolerable (especially since Schenectadians are facing an identical 5.8 percent hike on their school taxes); but it was pretty cowardly of him to throw up his hands and pass the mess off to the city council. That’s not how a CEO in the private sector would do it.