Schenectady is in a position to make progress heading into 2017, and Mayor Gary McCarthy said he’d like to see the city position itself as a leader in New York state and beyond.
“The state of our city is strong, the best days for Schenectady are still ahead and together we will keep Schenectady moving forward,” he said.
McCarthy painted Schenectady as a city on the rise Monday night during his annual State of the City Address. The mayor hit on economic development, improved infrastructure and continued implementation of technologies as key initiatives during his overwhelmingly positive hourlong speech.
The address came 10 days after Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen announced that no charges would be filed in connection with a May 19 incident in which the mayor chased a woman through his neighborhood and to the Schenectady police station.
McCarthy made no mention of the incident or ensuing report during his speech, and declined comment afterward.
Instead, the mood Monday night was celebratory, as prominent business leaders and Democratic party members from around the city and county packed the City Council chambers. A few residents were forced to watch from the hallways since they hadn’t preregistered.
The speech touched on accomplishments from 2016, and looked ahead to the coming year, which McCarthy described as full of opportunity.
Here are the main subjects the mayor addressed during his annual speech:
Schenectady’s finances are strong heading into 2017, McCarthy told the audience Monday, saying the city has made significant strides fiscally since he took office about five years ago.
Schenectady faced difficult decisions six years ago to keep its financial footing, McCarthy said. Since then, the municipality has gotten itself into good shape, despite not receiving as much state aid as other, similarly sized municipalities, he said.
He added that the city tax levy is at its lowest level in at least a decade.
In 2017, residents benefited from a 4 percent tax cut. However, that number fell short of the 5 percent to 10 percent cut McCarthy and a few city council members had said they expected to deliver prior to budget negotiations.
A significant portion of the mayor’s speech was spent detailing city efforts to combat blighted properties.
McCarthy said there’s no single solution that can be applied to break the cycle of blight, but suggested the city is taking a multifaceted approach through its H.O.M.E.S. initiative. The program encourages homeownership, redevelopment of abandoned buildings, foreclosure and sale of city property and demolishing structures as a last resort.
“In 2017, we will enhance several of these approaches to improve quality of life in our neighborhoods,” he said.
Blighted properties cause significant costs for the city, McCarthy said, such as uncollected taxes on distressed properties, and the price of city workers maintaining and processing those properties.
Paving streets, implementing a bike infrastructure plan and improving parks were among the infrastructure projects the mayor said he expects to complete in 2017.
McCarthy said the city has invested more than $17 million in the past six years in paving city and neighborhood roads. In 2017, he said, the city plans to pave another 13 miles.
A significant aspect of the city’s infrastructure projects for the next year will have a focus on sustainability. The mayor pointed to the city’s ongoing bike infrastructure plan, which is intended to make the municipality more accessible to bikers and pedestrians.
McCarthy also noted that Schenectady increased its recycling efforts in 2016 by nearly 269 tons, which he said saves the city money and helps the environment.
In addition, he highlighted projects at Steinmetz Park and Central Park that are expected to be completed in 2017.
In running through several ongoing development projects in the region, McCarthy emphasized the importance of collaboration.
“2016 was another year of dramatic economic victories, and set the stage for more to come,” he said.
McCarthy listed a series of developments that were announced in 2016 and are expected to come to fruition in 2017, including converting the Annie Schafer Senior Center into apartments, creating the Mill Artisan District and completing several projects at the Mohawk Harbor site.
The harbor development includes luxury apartments, planned office and retail space and the Rivers Casino & Resort, which is slated to open Feb. 8.
He said much of the city’s economic success can be contributed to its relationship with the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority and the county.
“None of these projects would have been possible in a vacuum,” McCarthy said.
One area in which the city can lead, McCarthy told the audience, is in utilizing technology to improve quality of life and efficiency.
The mayor launched his “Smart City” initiative during his 2016 State of the City, and again dedicated a portion of his address to discussing the benefits of the effort. He said the city made some strides in effectively using technology in the past year, and hopes to implement more ideas that would lead to cost savings and other improvements.
“We’re only scratching the surface of what is possible with Smart City technology,” he said.
He noted that the city launched a new website in 2016 that allowed citizens to access more services through the web.
In 2017, McCarthy said, the city will look to install “smart streetlights,” which he’s discussed previously as a way to cut costs and streamline city services. The lights would be Wi-Fi-enabled, and allow police and other city workers to access data in the area of the streetlight, McCarthy said. The LED lights would also save the city thousands.
By furthering the city’s efforts using technology, McCarthy said it can continue to be recognized as a leader and remain on the cutting edge.
The mayor credited proactive policing as a major reason behind a drop in crime in 2016 relative to the city’s five-year average.
Violent crime dropped nearly 14 percent, while property crime dipped by about 22 percent last year compared with a five-year average, McCarthy told the crowd.
He noted that the call volume remained steady compared with past years, but said in many cases, police are initiating those calls by being more active and present in neighborhoods.
The fire department responded to roughly 18,000 calls in 2016, a 3 percent decrease from the year before, McCarthy said.
He also praised the Fire Department for its presence in the community, saying first responders work with local schools and the community to educate residents on fire safety.