It would probably be premature for anyone in Schenectady to break into a chorus of “Happy days are here again,” but the financial news from City Hall was undeniably better than expected last week, almost good, in fact.
We have to admit to being surprised and impressed by Mayor Gary McCarthy’s ability to straighten out the city’s fortunes to the degree they appear to have been straightened out, though luck and some one-shot revenue sources may have had as much to do with the turnaround as sound management. Even the mayor’s own finance commissioner (as well as the city’s independent auditor) indicated at Monday’s council meeting that the recent audit doesn’t mean that the city is out of the woods.
Still, a surplus of some $3.5 million is better than a deficit of that amount or more, which is what the city faced a couple years ago. And for the city not to have spent some $5.4 million in surplus funds it had budgeted to spend last year is equally impressive.
McCarthy attributes the improvement to fiscal prudence and sound management, both of which appear to have helped. Police and fire overtime came in under budget, for example, and property owners — faced with a real threat of foreclosure rather than the usual lip service of the past — ponied up their due in greater amounts.
But a big chunk of the surplus ($2.7 million) came from the general fund collecting on loans it had made several years ago to the Recreation, Water and Sewer funds. That revenue source certainly won’t recur. And taxpayers who settled years worth of arrears last year will simply be paying their annual due this year. Maybe others will seek to settle up this year, and maybe the city will start getting money from auctioning the houses it has foreclosed on — as well as taxes from the new owners. But continued diligence and good luck will be necessary.
As Finance Commissioner Deborah DeGenova and independent auditor Jim Cusack both exhorted the council, this was just a start; caution must still be the order of the day. Better make that week, month and year.