The City Council unanimously approved the $85 million 2017 city budget in a brief meeting Friday evening, giving city residents a 4-percent property tax cut as new casino revenue hits the city’s books.
The 4-percent tax cut was a slight increase over Mayor Gary McCarthy’s budget proposal but still short of the 5-percent cut that City Council President Leesa Perazzo had aimed for.
During last year’s city budget proposal, McCarthy set a goal of cutting property taxes by as much as 10 percent if the city turned distressed foreclosed properties into tax-generating homes and sales tax revenue grew as construction progressed on the Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino development.
That ambitious goal has been turned into a political cudgel as revenue didn’t keep pace with what would have been needed for a double-digit tax cut.
“That was our goal,” McCarthy said Friday night.
McCarthy said he didn’t intend for this year’s tax relief to be a one-time deal, suggesting new casino revenue coupled with getting foreclosed properties back on the tax rolls would lead to more tax cuts in the coming years.
“I want to have sustainable tax reductions going into the near future, two, three, five years,” he said.
The City Council on Friday met for less than five minutes, and none of the members made comments about the budget during the formal meeting. They approved the budget by consent and without a roll call vote.
The Democratic council members, who make up the majority on the council, had met in private on Wednesday to discuss the budget.
After the meeting Vince Riggi, an indepent and the only non-Democrat on the council, said he regretted not forcing the roll call vote and called the move to vote by consent “bizarre” and unprecedented in his years on the council.
“That was the strangest budget vote in my life,” he said. “It’s the most important vote we make of the year and there was no roll call so people could explain why they were voting that way.
Riggi supported the budget but said he had reservations he would’ve liked to share on the public record. He said he wouldn’t support any new positions in city government in the near future, because the budget came in tighter than he expected.
“I was surprised the financial outlook was not as rosy as projected; that’s why we couldn’t do better than 4 percent,” Riggi said. “We need to be more prudent in our spending from here on out.”