Schenectady city taxpayers can expect to pay less in taxes next year after Mayor Gary McCarthy opened the annual budget season with a proposal that cuts the tax rate 3.26 percent.
City Council President Leesa Perazzo, who called the mayor’s proposal a “good start,” said she still hoped to cut taxes at least 5 percent. And Councilman Vincent Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council, said he was “very disappointed” and “shocked” that the proposal didn’t call for even more dramatic tax cuts.
“I’ve publicly stated that I’m committed to a 5 percent [tax rate cut], and I do stand by that,” Perazzo said after the mayor unveiled his budget proposal Friday. “I think it’s a possibility.”
As recently as June, McCarthy had suggested the tax cut could be as high as 10 percent. During his presentation of the proposal on Friday, McCarthy pointed out that over half of Schenectady tax bills go to school taxes and that tax bills would be dramatically slashed if the state had more “equitable” school and municipal state aid formulas.
The tax cut one-upsmanship comes as the city begins to hash out its first budget that will rely on a major infusion of revenue from the new Rivers Casino & Resort, which its managers say will open in the first three months of 2017.
The mayor’s $84.9 million proposal projects the city will score $2.75 million in new casino revenue, which is based on the casino’s analysis of its expected revenue and pro-rated to account for an open date later than January.
“I’m very disappointed,” Riggi said of the budget proposal, citing what he called the mayor’s “promise” to cut taxes 10 percent. “Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.”
But the mayor said that if the council had followed Riggi’s path, — he voted against the casino project because he wanted a consistent annual contribution to the city — the city would have had to increase taxes and cut staff.
“It’s the loyal opposition,” McCarthy said of Riggi’s complaint. “He has criticized everything I’ve done in the last five years.”
The proposal cuts the city tax levy — the total amount collected in property taxes — by about 4 percent. Total general fund spending increases by $790,115, or just under 1 percent.
McCarthy projects $1.2 million in revenue from the sale of distressed homes the city owns. He said there is “light at the end of the tunnel” and expects the city can begin getting out of the home sales market in the next 24 to 30 months.
The proposal includes money to pave 11 more miles of road — on top of 56 miles paved in the past five years — and expands Orchard Park in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood. The city plans to purchase foreclosed homes adjacent to the park and open new access points.
“It will really make it a true asset and value-added resource for the Mont Pleasant neighborhood,” McCarthy said.
The city Police Department is also anticipating changes when the new casino opens. New Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford said he expects to divide up one policing zone, which includes downtown and the Stockade, into two zones, creating a new zone that would cover the Stockade and the new casino site. At least one officer would be dedicated to patrolling the new Stockade and casino zone, Clifford said.
The Police Department is also in the process of analyzing the number of calls for service it can expect at the new casino. If it turns out staffing needs to be higher in that area, Clifford said, the police will adjust.
“We will be giving that area the extra attention we feel it needs to cover the casino, the harbor and the Stockade,” Clifford said.
Clifford has a visit to the casino set for next week, so he and other police and fire officials can get a look inside the casino and the overall site to better understand what the policing needs may be there.
The City Council will hold a public budget hearing Oct. 11 and needs to approve a final budget by Nov. 1.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.