Schenectady has a budget for 2014, even if the spending plan they adopted Wednesday doesn’t exactly thrill members of City Council.
Councilman Vince Riggi — the lone non-Democrat — didn’t get the reduction he sought in a health care line item. Councilwomen Leesa Perazzo and Denise Brucker didn’t get a deputy fire chief’s position restored after it was cut from Mayor Gary McCarthy’s original proposal.
But when it came down to the tally, four of the six council members at City Hall on Wednesday were placated enough by the spending plan to vote for it. Perazzo and Brucker both voted against the budget.
“Clearly, this isn’t exactly what anybody wanted, but rather an average of what all parties think is right for the city,” said Carl Erikson, the Finance Committee chairman. “There was plenty of compromise.”
The $79 million budget includes a 0.96 percent tax increase — down from 2.2 percent in the original budget proposal. A homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000 will see his tax bill increase by about $15, while sewer, water and trash fees will increase a total of $34.50.
Perazzo said the budget does “a disservice to our taxpayers” by cutting out the deputy fire chief’s position, one of six at the department. She said retaining the position would add only $8 annually to the tax bill of a $100,000 home.
Perazzo said the number of fires in the city coupled with the city’s large stock of aging wood structures makes the position a necessity. For the money saved, she said, the cut seems completely unwarranted.
“For eight dollars a year, we’re going to debate this?” she asked. “That’s ridiculous.”
Brucker echoed this criticism before casting her vote. She said the council should listen to the department’s leadership when they say the position is critical.
“When they speak to us and tell us they need this position, I have to defer to their experience,” she said.
The council agreed to revisit the staffing levels at the Fire Department in less than six months, with Councilwoman Marion Porterfield suggesting they take another look in three months. Council President Margaret King agreed with this notion and shared concerns about the cuts.
“Right now, the city needs a budget, and I think that this is the best we can do,” she said.
Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco and Michael Angelozzi, president of the department’s union, declined comment after the vote. Erikson said the budget, as passed, is simply a “starting point” for the city’s target goals and changes could be made further down the road.
“We adjust course as we travel,” he said.
McCarthy was content with the budget adopted by the council, calling it a “workable document.” He stressed the city wouldn’t have such tough budget years if there wasn’t such a high percentage of property owners who don’t pay their tax bills.
For instance, McCarthy said the 2013 budget factored in 15 percent of all property owners not paying their taxes. Next year’s budget reduces this figure to 13 percent, not enough to offer budget relief.
“It’s all tied to the distressed properties,” he said.