Today’s cartoon of Newt Gingrich scrounging under his sofa cushions for loose change could just as easily be Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. Depending on whom you ask, that may be only a slight exaggeration of the city’s surplus since it paid the county $1 million in February for uncollectible taxes, and already it’s had to borrow money to deal with short-term cash flow problems.
The city’s predicament has received enough publicity that anyone who’s been paying attention should be aware of it. That includes Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen, who informed the City Council on Monday that he’d already signed purchase orders encumbering a good hunk of the $580,000 left from this winter’s snow removal budget to contract for salt and plowing services for the first two months of next winter.
Being prepared for winter in this part of the country is never a bad idea — except when the roof collapses during a summer monsoon and there’s no money to fix it. Whether or not Schenectady will rue not having this full $580,000 around remains to be seen. But with the till so low to begin with — some estimates place cash reserves at just $75,000, though McCarthy insists they are higher — it seems this was one occasion the city could have gambled a bit.
We did, after all, just come through the mildest winter in decades, so the idea of a snowless November and December is hardly unfathomable.
McCarthy’s what-me-worry attitude may well be justified, but it’s clear that some council members are skeptical. He needs to do a better job convincing them, and the public, that the city’s finances are sounder than they seem to be. And if they’re not, he needs to get tough with department heads about all nonessential spending.