Mayor Brian U. Stratton on Monday froze hiring, cut travel and overtime expenses and proposed other initiatives to counter the loss of state aid this year and to overcome “formidable economic obstacles next year.”
Stratton announced the measures in his annual State of the City address delivered Monday night before the City Council. He said the city will lose $236,000 in state aid this year under Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget and is looking at a $12.8 million budget problem next year.
Stratton said the city’s budget projection next year shows revenues will decline by $8.1 million while expenditures will increase by $4.7 million. The $8.1 million figure is based on an 8 percent reduction in state aid next year and the need to replace the money the city used from its fund balance and from other sources to balance the current $78 million budget. Stratton said these pools of money are nearly depleted.
“In order to maintain the current level of city services now provided, and to do so without a property tax increase, we will need to make adjustments totaling $12.8 million,” he said.
Stratton’s measures include:
* A hiring freeze for non-public safety positions. The city will not fill at least six previously approved and budgeted positions, for a savings of $260,000.
* Reducing non-emergency equipment purchases, for a savings of $100,000.
* Reducing travel, training and conference expenditures by $50,000.
* Reducing non-emergency overtime or compensation time for employees by $200,000. The police and fire departments are exempt from the directive.
* Instituting a safety program to reduce Workers Compensation costs by $200,000. Stratton said the city hopes to increase revenues by $200,000 by restructuring fees for building permits, curb cuts, parking and rental certificates [the garbage collection fee would remain unchanged]. He said these fees have not been adjusted in years and have not kept pace with the cost of the services they support.
The city also hopes to raise another $500,000 by collecting some of the $4 million owed it in delinquent property taxes. These are liens that were not sold to the collection agency.
In addition, the city is exploring the possibility of billing insurance companies for some of the 9,000 emergency medical assistance calls made by fire paramedics each year. Stratton said the city could collect approximately $500,000 annually through this mechanism.
The city will pursue home-rule authority to bill for emergency services provided to nonprofit entities in the city as well, Stratton said. “This would be consistent with efforts undertaken by the New York State Conference of Mayors in the past but never achieved on a statewide scale,” he said.
In coming months, the city will seek to save $500,000 by working with unions to move workers into a single-provider health insurance plan. The city currently has a cafeteria plan.
The city will also offer an early retirement incentive program to achieve savings and will try to work with Union College and Ellis Medicine to obtain some sort of payment-in-lieu of taxes agreement for services they receive from Schenectady.
Stratton said the city will use a $50,000 state grant to study ways to reduce costs through consolidation of services among city departments and through the consolidation of whole municipal departments in the county into a single police and public safety unit.
“We must not prematurely dismiss the potential or opportunity to realize practical solutions to our daily policing challenges and annual costs — and the opportunity to provide taxpayers — not only within the city but also among other parts of Schenectady County, with real savings and improved public safety services for all taxpayers,” Stratton said.
He said the city will apply for a second $50,000 grant to study consolidation of the city’s and the county’s snow plowing and their public works operations.
Without these measures, Stratton warned of a need to cut staff and reduce city services. “There is no willingness to raise property taxes,” he said.