A previous version of this story incorrectly labeled Councilman Vince Riggi's political party. Riggi does not belong to a political party, he is an independent, and the only non-Democrat on the city council.
SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City Council adopted a 2015 operating budget Friday with $81.6 million in total revenue and a 0.95 percent property-tax hike.
The six-member council managed to rework Mayor Gary McCarthy’s proposed budget to cut spending by $649,000 and decrease the tax hike from 3 percent.
“What I put forth was a budget I thought was prudent and realistic,” McCarthy said. “I never want to do any tax increases, but I have to balance the overall needs of the city. We have to continue services that we believe people will respect. We worked together on this with the council, and we are well positioned for next year.”
A majority of the council voted in favor of the budget. Councilman Vince Riggi, who is not affiliated with a political party and the only non-Democrat on the council, was the only no vote.
“I think we still left some money on the table,” Riggi said, “especially with the health care costs and that one body shop position we talked about. Those are two things I feel really strongly about. The budget is under 1 percent; that’s a good thing, but I think it can be better.”
McCarthy said he is satisfied with the final budget and has no plans to veto it. The tax hike will cost the average homeowner an additional $12 a year on a house assessed at $100,000.
“I started out with the goal of having a 0 percent tax increase,” McCarthy said. “We went through everything, though, to maintain our level of services. We’re stabilizing the overall finances of the city.”
The biggest cut made to the budget by the council was $495,000 from the city health insurance pool. That number was agreed upon after a $450,000 cut was initially proposed. Riggi, along with council members John Mootooveren and Marion Porterfield, thought the cut could have been greater.
The cut will take out $105,000 from the city plan, $15,000 from CanaRX prescriptions, $355,000 from MVP EPO and $20,000 from dental coverage. The overall cost for health insurance in the budget is about $14.2 million.
“I am cautiously optimistic of containing our trend of health care costs internally,” McCarthy said. “If we can contain the cost, it will be fine. At the same time, it’s just like an insurance company: When you have good years, you build up reserves. This will limit our ability to build up reserves for future shifts and costs.”
During budget meetings throughout the month, Riggi, Mootooveren and Porterfield were aiming to reduce the tax increase further. Porterfield said she would have preferred around 0.5 percent.
Riggi proposed eliminating a body shop position that would have saved the city about $62,000 a year plus benefits. The job has not generated enough revenue, he said, pointing to the former commissioner of general services’ promise that it would bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“In the body shop, the guy is not just sitting there when there is no work to do,” McCarthy said. “He gets shifted to other work with repairs on other vehicles. There’s a dynamic there depending on what’s going on at the time.”
Several council members sought to eliminate 1.2 percent in raises for management and department heads, along with $3,000 in stipends for five employees. Mootooveren said the city could not afford the raises and the burden should not be placed on the taxpayers. Councilman Ed Kosiur proposed cutting the stipends in half, but ultimately the raises and stipends were left untouched.
“I still have trouble with the raises,” Mootooveren said during a budget meeting Thursday. Aside from the health insurance cut, council members agreed on $154,000 in additional cuts, including a $9,000 reduction in parts for vehicle equipment repair, a $12,000 reduction in recycling fees and a $15,000 reduction in paramedic bonuses.
The council also discussed the idea of cutting police overtime in the budget. Mootooveren suggested reducing overtime by $175,000 to bring the total to an even $1 million.
Mootooveren also proposed hiring more police officers as an alternative to overtime, but McCarthy said hiring more officers wouldn't save the city since some of the overtime goes toward court time and other work.
“We always say that patrols will be light if overtime was cut from the budget,” Mootooveren said, “but shouldn’t crime go down at the same time?”
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.