It's kind of hard to figure the Schenectady City Council's reluctance to tackle the city's fiscal predicament head-on.
Waiting for Mayor Gary McCarthy to address the situation in next year's budget -- as the majority of council members seem willing to do -- may be too late, at least if the city hopes to avoid the massive layoffs that will otherwise be necessary to balance the budget. And he's already demonstrated a what-me-worry attitude about deficits that any fiscally sane person should question.
Sure, there's always a chance McCarthy's magic wand will work -- that property owners will start paying their taxes in far greater numbers than they did last year; that the city will make more money selling off foreclosed properties than it expects; and that there will be no disasters, natural or otherwise, that cost thousands, or more, to address. But the council shouldn't count on it. Because if the gamble doesn't pan out, the option of raising taxes to make ends meet no longer exists. The state's tax cap took care of that.
What the council needs to do is make a list of all unnecessary (non-contractual) expenditures, and eliminate most of them. That means no more new cars or trucks (the old ones will have to suffice another year), and no non-emergency overtime. None. If the work can't get done in 40 hours, let the next shift pick it up. Or wait till tomorrow.
Then the mayor, or his designee, has to engage city employee unions in frank talk about contract concessions. Whether it's limits to raises already negotiated, benefit reductions or increased employee contributions for health care, the unions need to know that their cooperation is essential if the city is to avoid big layoffs next year. Laying off some of the workers now would be advisable, except (as noted in Sunday's Gazette story) that so-called "bumping" and paying off unused sick and vacation benefits will reduce the cuts' impact. But if those rights are going to be issues at any point with layoffs, the city might as well get started now.
Schenectady had a surplus to mitigate last year's $5 million deficit, but it's essentially broke now. So unless there are some major changes in the way it spends money, or takes it in, a similar deficit seems likely this year. The sooner it takes action to lessen the severity of the shortfall, the better.