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Divided Schenectady council passes budget

Divided Schenectady council passes budget

Includes 1 percent tax cut
Divided Schenectady council passes budget
City Hall in downtown Schenectady at sunset in November 2016.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

SCHENECTADY — The City Council passed the 2018 city budget Tuesday night, but also laid bare a deep rift on the Democrat-controlled body.

The council voted 4-3 to approve the $85.2 million spending plan, leaving it largely unchanged from Mayor Gary McCarthy's proposed budget released late last month.

The budget includes a 1 percent tax cut, with a projected rate falling from $13.21 per $1,000 assessed value to $13.07 per $1,000.

The council passed the budget after Council President Leesa Perazzo repeated charges that the budget process was short-circuited, leaving important questions she had unanswered and possibly further cuts on the table.

Other council members, most notably John Polimeni, pointedly argued that Perazzo had plenty of time to ask her questions but did not do so.

"We all asked our questions and had them answered during meetings," Polimeni said as he explained his yes vote. "Someone didn't. They didn't come prepared. To say that this budget process is being rushed is just a fabrication."

Polimeni added, addressing Perazzo, that she "exposed yourself for a lack of knowledge in both finance and budgets. Now, we could have been working together. You chose not to."

Perazzo countered in explaining her no vote. She didn't work on Polimeni's timeline. She worked on the one they all agreed to, she said.

"So you certainly are absolutely and completely entitled to your opinions, but they are just that," Perazzo said. "I've been around just a little while at this table longer than you have. I have concerns that we didn't do all of the hard work that we needed to do on this budget."

She also argued that "the single most important function" of the council is to go through the budget line by line.

"Yes this process was broken this time," Perazzo said. "It was strong-armed by four people." 

Voting for the budget were Polimeni and fellow council members Ed Kosiur, John Mootooveren and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. Voting against were Perazzo, Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi.

The budget totals $85.2 million, which would be an increase from a current city budget of $84.6 million. Among key revenue sources, it anticipates nearly $2.3 million from the Rivers Casino & Resort and $1.4 million from the sale of city-owned housing.

Perazzo's comments continued concerns she aired a day earlier at the council's regular meeting. She contends that the move went against an agreement to hold the budget vote this coming Monday.

She offered a list of budget adjustments she said could have amounted to as much as another percentage point tax cut, but the council did not fully consider them.

In the end, the council only considered and approved two minor changes, increasing the salary of one employee nearly $2,900 for added duties and using $52,000 from a capital reserve to pay for golf course maintenance equipment.

Porterfield, who joined Perazzo in opposing the quicker timeline Monday, said she felt the council should have taken more time to consider Perazzo's concerns, as well as some of her own concerns.

"Because the timeline has been abbreviated, we don't have time to do that, and I would have liked to have seen us do that," Porterfield said.

But the four members who voted for it called it a spending plan that prepares the city for the future.

"We have a good budget here," Mootooveren said. "We just have to continue to work to make sure that we give taxpayers their rightful reduction in the years to come."

At the same time, he said, they have to maintain services and renew infrastructure.

Zalewski-Wildzunas called it fiscally responsible in voting yes.

Kosier did not comment directly during his vote, but earlier questioned "nickel and diming this tremendously big budget."

The council has to rely on the mayor and city staff, he said.

"They're the professionals at this," Kosiur said. "We've done a good job. We really have. We've looked at the budget. We've had the budget since Sept. 28. We've met with every single department head."

He said he was looking forward and rather have a cushion and called it a good budget.

Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council, said he voted against the plan due to discretionary raises given to supervisors while major labor contracts remain unresolved. He also felt the council was not living up to the spirit of a resolution to use casino revenue exclusively for tax relief.

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