Year one: two unrealistic dreams accomplished.
Mayor Gary McCarthy announced Monday that the city managed to save more than the $1 million he projected a year ago with the takeover of the privately run sewage treatment plant.
He also finished the year with a slight surplus, he said in his State of the City address, held at the beginning of the City Council meeting.
But he acknowledged that much more must be done, and he said the core goal must be attracting new residents.
“We’re looking for urban pioneers,” he said, describing owners willing to take on distressed, foreclosed properties and help turn the city into a better place.
Schenectady needs to be the sort of place that those pioneers will flock to, he said, by reducing crime, cutting costs and improving the infrastructure.
And marketing helps, too. McCarthy emphasized the many accomplishments, large and small, made by city employees over the last year. His presentation ran the gamut from the speed of the Fire Department to the number of street signs replaced.
Then he launched into the details of his successful first budget.
He was criticized heavily during the development of the 2012 budget. His mayoral opponent, Roger Hull, called the budget a collection of unrealistic hopes and dreams.
Others also questioned whether he could ever save as much as he thought he could by taking over the sewage plant, and worried that he was relying too heavily on money from foreclosures.
He had budgeted to make $700,000 by collecting back taxes, foreclosing on houses and selling them.
Now the figures are in. The city collected more than $1.5 million in housing-related initiatives, although foreclosures took far longer than expected. McCarthy’s budget had called for at least 20 house sales after foreclosure; instead, the city made most of its money from owners who paid up at the last minute to keep their property. Of those who had not paid their 2011 taxes, 51 percent paid in full in 2012. Previously, only a few delinquent taxpayers would typically pay the overdue bill.
McCarthy said city officials will work to improve that percentage even more this year.
The sewage treatment plant savings worked out to be essentially as McCarthy had predicted, with the city enjoying the benefit of new equipment that powered the plant with methane gas. That alone saved $280,000.
No final numbers
McCarthy didn’t yet have final figures on the surplus.
“We will have a modest surplus in 2012,” he said. “I can’t quote a number yet because they’re still closing things out.”
He’s still looking for new ways to save money. He’s urging city employees who use direct deposit to sign up for emailed pay stubs, which would save the city the cost of printing.
He also highlighted the work of the Police Department, which saw a 5 percent decrease in calls and a 9 percent decrease in reports of the most serious crimes. Statewide, serious crimes went up last year.
Reducing calls will cut down on the cost of that department, he said.
“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to make sure when we’re going to a problem property or a problem individual, we solve the problem the first time.”
As part of that effort, police and firefighters are now looking for code violations as well as trying to resolve neighbor complaints before they become repetitive issues. The Fire Department reported 380 code violations last year.
But there is still much to do, McCarthy said.
“Our biggest liability, our biggest asset, is our real estate,” he said.
The most recent census found that 11.5 percent of Schenectady’s housing units — apartments and single-family houses — are vacant. That’s 3,462 units.