Councilwoman Denise Brucker has made it clear that her priorities are the Fire and Parks departments — not administrative jobs or even a program that reduces lead poisoning.
She wants to redirect as much money as possible to the parks maintenance department, where every worker is slated to be laid off in the proposed 2011 budget, and to the Fire Department, where 19 firefighters are to be laid off.
“We don’t have the luxury we used to have,” she said, adding that she could not “in good conscience” vote to spend $300,000 to reduce lead-poisoning when all of the city parks might be closed next year.
She urged the council to reject a federal grant that would replace residential windows and doors covered in lead-based paint. While the program is intended to reduce lead poisoning rates among low-income residents, she said it simply costs too much.
The city intended to use federal Community Development Block Grant funds for the match, but Brucker said that money could be better spent on firefighters or parks workers.
She also pressed Development Director Richard Purga to find more jobs to lay off in his department. He’s already losing some part-timers to layoffs.
“If you had to take a position out of your administration, where would it be? What can you live without?” she asked when the council reviewed Purga’s budget Tuesday.
Mayor Brian U. Stratton tried to rescue Purga, explaining that he’s hoping to consolidate a position with the county. “But they’re still uncertain there’s going to be that vacancy over at the county,” he said.
Brucker didn’t back down.
“It seems there may be even more opportunities,” she said, using a euphemism for spending cuts. “I’m still waiting for an answer to that question.”
Zoning Officer Steven Strichman protested that they didn’t dare offer an answer.
“If we give you names, that position is as good as gone,” he said.
Purga added that the council should keep jobs that are funded by grants, which applies to most Department of Development positions.
Brucker rejected that idea.
“I’m not real satisfied by, ‘Oh, it’s reimbursable, so it’s OK,’ ” she said. “The federal government does not reimburse someone’s pension. Years ago, it wasn’t an issue. It is now a serious issue.”
Purga still didn’t offer any ideas, so she let him go — but not before warning that he may have to cut another position somewhere in his department.
“You may have to make those hard decisions,” she said. “I hope not, but in light of everything else, I wouldn’t be surprised if you do.”
As for the lead program, which would cost the city $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, she said it’s no longer a priority.
“I understand this might be a good program for the city,” Brucker said. “But that $300,000 can be redirected within the city and I really think it should.”
Acting Program Manager Elonda Mackey told her she was making the wrong decision. “You’re putting children at risk,” she said.
The program paints over peeling paint and replaces windows and doors, vastly reducing the amount of lead paint dust in the air of low-income houses. The grant would cover the costs of lead work in 65 to 70 houses.
Brucker seemed to get support from Council President Gary McCarthy and Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard.
“All our houses have lead,” Blanchard said, noting that most houses in Schenectady were built before lead-based paint was banned in 1978.
McCarthy added that he would not immediately support the program. But he placed it back on the agenda for next Monday’s committee meeting.
Brucker is looking closely at every budget item that uses CDBG funds because she hopes to use some of that funding to maintain the city parks next summer. All of the parks maintenance staff are slated to be laid off in the proposed 2011 budget.
“My concern is ... the possible closure of the parks,” Brucker said. “Kids need recreation.”
CDBG funds can be spent only on low-income areas of the city, making it unlikely that the grant could be used to restore firefighters.
But Brucker said there’s a possibility.
“I’m not convinced we can’t,” she said, suggesting that firefighters could be partially paid by CDBG if they did fire hazard inspections in low-income areas.
But she’s sure CDBG could be used to save the parks.
“[Residents in] areas CDBG addresses go to the parks,” Brucker said. “I think you could make a very good argument.”
Brucker said CDBG could also be used to fund the summer youth employment program, which is also proposed for elimination next year.
She said it’s possible that youth could get jobs maintaining the parks, thus solving both problems at once.
“The kids did work with maintenance staff [this year],” she said. “It could really be a great internship for these kids.”