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Schenectady mayor's 2018 budget calls for 1 percent tax cut

Schenectady mayor's 2018 budget calls for 1 percent tax cut

City Council must review and adopt a final budget by Nov. 1
Schenectady mayor's 2018 budget calls for 1 percent tax cut
Mayor Gary McCarthy presents the City of Schenectady's proposed 2018 budget.
Photographer: Brett Samuels

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy is proposing a 1 percent property tax cut for residents in 2018.

McCarthy presented Friday his proposal for the city’s 2018 budget, which called for the marginal tax reduction, and included funding for a number of city developments and initiatives, as well as some new staffing.

McCarthy is budgeting roughly $2.3 million in revenue from Rivers Casino & Resort in 2018, a more modest expectation than the $2.75 million the city budgeted for 2017. As of Sept. 1, the city has only received $1.3 million in gaming revenue from the facility, which opened in February.

This is the first year the governments will have tangible data from the casino to use in formulating their budgets. They previously relied on the casino’s projections to come up with revenue estimates.

The proposed tax cut for city residents in 2018 is less last year, when the city ultimately approved a 4 percent reduction in property taxes. However, McCarthy said this year is the third straight year of property tax cuts in the city, part of a long-term plan to position the city for financial success.

"We're at 6.3 percent (in tax cuts over the last few years)," McCarthy said. "What other community is doing that?"

In addition, the city school district lowered taxes by about 2.04 percent this year, and Schenectady County is proposing a 1 percent property tax cut as well.

“It’s all the levels of government who are lowering the tax rate,” McCarthy said. “When (the city) cuts taxes, we’re less than a third of the tax bill. The real significance becomes the other partners.”

City Council President Leesa Perazzo said following McCarthy’s presentation that there’s “a lot to go through” in the budget, but at first blush she said she doesn’t believe the casino’s revenues are reflected in the property tax cut.

Councilman Vince Riggi, the council’s lone non-Democrat, wasn’t surprised by the proposal, he said.

“I was thinking in the past few months, anything more than a 1 percent cut probably would not be a prudent budget,” Riggi said.

He expressed initial concern about a suggested overall funding reduction in the General Services department, saying he worried residents who expect the city to provide certain services would suffer as a result.

The mayor’s budget is subject to change, as the City Council will hold several review sessions over the next month. A public hearing will also be held on Oct. 10 for residents to provide feedback. The council must adopt a final budget by Nov. 1.

Here are some other highlights from the mayor’s proposal:

  • While the overall budget for the General Services Department is down by about $175,000 from last year, it includes funding for one additional code enforcement officer, two new positions in the mechanical division and the addition of a housing inspector. McCarthy said he is looking to match up the staffing levels with the required workload in the department.
  • As part of McCarthy’s “Smart City” initiative, Schenectady is partnering with National Grid and other companies on a project called “Reforming the Energy Vision.” The city is still finalizing its application, but expects to partner with National Grid, Cisco, General Electric, AT&T and others to install LED street lighting and sensors on street lighting throughout the city that could improve resource deployment for public safety, traffic management and code enforcement, he said. McCarthy put $1 million in the capital budget for the initiative, he said, and is hoping some of the hardware will be installed by the end of 2018. Once the new lighting is fully implemented, the city will save about $400,000 annually, he said.
  • The proposal includes $94,000 in funding for a commissioner of public safety. The job is vacant after the death of Wayne Bennett in August, but the future of the role is dependent on a court case involving the city and the police union. A judge is expected to rule in the coming weeks. The fire and police costs are expected to increase by roughly $1.2 million in 2018, largely due to new contract agreements with each department.
  • McCarthy budgeted $1.4 million in revenue from housing sales, a $100,000 increase from last year’s budget.
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