Schenectady Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen presented it as thinking outside the box in 2010 when he proposed that the city run its own body shop at the new $20 million garage on Foster Avenue. At the time, he said the shop would bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue every year by getting rust off other municipalities' trucks and heavy equipment. That hasn't happened.
The body shop did manage to finish in the black in 2011, its first year. It got some work from the county, but most of the revenue came from the city's insurance company paying it to fix its own vehicles -- an arrangement that has stopped because the city's insurance deductibles went way up due to a high accident rate by city employees.
Last year, the body shop brought in only about half of what it spent on salaries and materials, and the same is expected this year. That's despite not counting debt service and overhead, and despite cutting expenses in 2013 by eliminating one of the shop 's two employees.
This has put Olsen and Mayor Gary McCarthy on the defensive. As city council president in 2010, McCarthy brokered a deal when his fellow council members were wavering. The agreement was to operate the body shop on a trial basis; if it wasn't cost-effective, it would be closed. Now the mayor says the shop is worth having even if it gets no outside business, because it extends the life of city vehicles, avoiding the cost of buying new ones.
Maybe. But that wasn't the original pitch. Everyone would feel much better if the body shop were taking in more revenue by getting body work from other municipalities. Glenville and Rotterdam have both expressed interest, and Glenville and the city are apparently negotiating. But Glenville says so far the city hasn't given it a competitive price compared with the private companies it now uses.
The city should have leeway on the expense side because it could shift an employee back temporarily from the mechanical division if it gets some extra work. If it gets a significant amount on a regular basis, it could add another permanent employee. But first it has to be competitive and get those jobs.