Mayor Gary McCarthy’s veto of the city budget lasted just one weekend.
On Tuesday, the City Council overrode the veto by a vote of 5 to 1. Only Councilwoman Margaret King voted against the decision.
The action means that the council’s $78 million budget now stands, with a 1.7 percent tax increase and a tax rate of $13.58 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The mayor’s plan would have meant a $78.9 million budget and 4.2 percent tax hike.
The five Democrats on the council met behind closed doors to discuss the override Monday night. They did not allow independent Councilman Vince Riggi to attend, then moved to override without any discussion, taking Riggi by surprise.
King then asked to discuss the matter, saying the council shouldn’t take immediate action.
The council had 30 days to make a decision, she said.
“I’m concerned that we’re being irresponsible, we made too many cuts,” she said. “I have some concerns about this, which is not to say I want the mayor’s budget to stand as it was originally written.”
But the other council members disagreed.
Riggi said the council could amend the budget at any time over the course of the year, if needed.
“I don’t think we’re putting anything at risk,” he said. “We should override the veto and then go back to the table and make budget amendments.”
Later amendments can’t increase the taxes, however, and the mayor seemed to be calling for a higher tax rate. He said the city needs more money to rebuild its savings accounts so that Schenectady’s credit rating is not reduced to junk bond status next spring.
But after the meeting, he said he had wanted more savings in the budget in case his budget estimates for the sale of foreclosed houses fell short.
He added that he ought to see the override as a vote of confidence.
“I [was] taking a more conservative approach with how much real estate we can turn over,” he said. “The council is taking that cushion out, so we’re going to have to perform.”
Council President Denise Brucker said she voted to override because she doesn’t support higher taxes. The council must strengthen the city’s finances while “ensuring taxpayers are also fiscally sound,” she said.
Councilman Carl Erikson added that the council put aside $1.2 million into savings in the 2013 budget, which could be used for unexpected expenses.
Both he and Brucker vowed to keep a close eye on the city’s spending, with biweekly reports to the council.
“This is something we cannot lose sight of,” Brucker said.
The council chamber was packed and the audience applauded and cheered the override. But the biggest cheers came when speakers criticized the Democrats for locking Riggi out of two budget meetings.
He was kicked out of the meeting at which the Democrats agreed on their changes to the 2013 budget, and the meeting at which they agreed to override the mayor’s veto.
Several residents told the council to stop meeting without Riggi. One resident reminded them that 4,317 voters put Riggi on the council.
“They placed him in that chair and you have no right to take that away,” one woman said.
Resident Harry Brand added, “To have a meeting without all the council members is wrong.”
At the end of the meeting, Riggi appealed to the council to stop holding caucus meetings so he could attend important decision-making sessions.
“I am here to represent the people,” he said.
Brucker told him she would not stop holding caucuses because the Democrats need to agree on their votes before discussing matters in public. She told him to appreciate his freedom from such discussions.
“You can do and say whatever you feel,” Brucker said, as members of the audience booed her. “You don’t need to take other people into consideration. You’re a free man.”