The Schenectady City Council approved the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation’s 2015 budget Monday evening, which raises assessments on hundreds of property owners in the district for the first time in eight years.
Councilman Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council, voted no on the proposed budget due to the assessment increase. The DSIC’s budget passed with the remaining five council members voting yes.
“I asked for some information that I didn’t get and I think the increase is too much, being 20 percent in some cases,” Riggi said. “They say they didn’t raise it in many years, but that’s not the problem of the person who is paying the assessment. Everybody is not as happy as people are led to believe. Everybody is not on board.”
The assessment hike is projected to increase DSIC’s total assessment revenue from $220,000 to $260,000 in 2015. The assessment increase varies by property and is determined by a property’s total square footage, frontage and location.
The assessment also falls on several churches in the district. Councilwoman Marion Porterfield suggested that those churches be exempt from the fee next year.
“I do have some concerns regarding the churches and that their assessments would be increasing,” Porterfield said. “I think we can do something about making them exempt in next year’s budget.”
Riggi agreed with Porterfield, but argued that the churches should be exempt from the assessment immediately because they do not have enough revenue to afford an increase.
“Some churches can’t wait until next year to have relief,” he said. “We have a church with a $70,000 deficit. We have churches that are in dire need right now and they just can’t afford to pay more money and that’s the bottom line.”
A public hearing on DSIC’s 2015 budget was held on Nov. 24, but no property owners showed up to express opposition to the assessment increase. Council members stressed the importance of public hearings Monday evening.
“I have gotten some positive and negative feedback,” said Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo. “But I got a lot of that feedback after the public hearing. I encourage those people to come to the public hearings.”
Additional revenue from the assessment boost will be used for DSIC to design and launch a new website and hire several part-time communications assistants along with a third full-time outdoor maintenance position, according to DSIC executive director Jim Salengo.
“We haven’t raised their assessment in eight years, although the footprint of downtown is getting much larger,” Perazzo said. “I think DSIC is doing a great job, so I vote yes.”
JACKSON DEMOLITION BID
The City Council awarded a bid to Jackson Demolition of Schenectady to demolish six buildings in the city for the total price tag of $174,350.
The city will use funding from a $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan for the project. Jackson was the lowest bidder out of a total of five bids for the demolition project.
The company will demolish 2934 Albany St., 1150 Cutler St., 206 Division St., 12 Grove Place, 107 Henry St. and 1055 Pleasant St.
The project is one of a series of demolitions in the city. The demolitions and recent sale of city-owned houses to new owner occupants are part of Mayor Gary McCarthy’s HOMES program — Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady.
“BEST VALUE” PURCHASING
A public hearing will be held on Dec. 22 regarding a local law that would allow for “best value” in the selection process for awarding contracts for services.
Approval of “best value” would allow the city to choose the best bid for a contract based on quality, cost and efficiency. The law would allow for bidders nationwide on contracts that are more than $20,000.
Councilman Ed Kosiur said the law would not create a competitive environment for local contractors and would save the city money in the long-term.
“This will not affect small businesses, and we want to deal with local companies,” he said. “The ‘best value’ piece is only for bids exceeding $20,000. This law will allow us to receive bids on a national level and it will save the city a tremendous amount of money. We’re talking about big contracts like those for fire trucks, dump trucks and other equipment.”
RACE AND LAW ENFORCEMENT
Following the chokehold death of Eric Gardner in New York and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Porterfield stressed the importance of a solid relationship between law enforcement and the community.
“We haven’t had anything like that happen here, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected our community in some way,” she said. “I think it’s more important than ever that we as a community have a conversation about it. There should be a better relationship built between local law enforcement and communities of color.”
Riggi recommended that police officers walk around the city’s neighborhoods and talk to people to build a relationship with the community.
“I think stop, talk and walk is a very good thing and can improve community relations,” he said. “I hope the mayor looks into that option.”
McCarthy agreed with the council members saying, “We should improve law enforcement’s relationship with the community and improve their effectiveness.”