SCHENECTADY -- A divided City Council approved the 2019 city budget in a 4-3 vote during a special meeting on Friday.
The $86.7 million budget includes a 1.06-percent property tax cut, which was the product of negotiations among council members heading into the vote on Friday.
The budget slightly deviated from Mayor Gary McCarthy’s proposed spending plan, which he presented to council members earlier this month. That plan included a 0.53 percent property tax cut and used approximately $3.6 million from the city’s surplus fund.
Councilman John Polimeni, chairman of the city’s Finance Committee, on Friday said that negotiations resulted in approximately $400,000 worth of changes to the budget since it was first presented. Those changes increased the property tax cut and added approximately $240,000 back into the city’s surplus fund, meaning the city will only take approximately $3.4 million from it.
Included in the adopted budget was a further decrease to the tax levy, which went from $30.75 million in the proposed budget to $30.6 million.
This means the tax rate will be $13.01 per $1,000 assessed value. City Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari said those whose homes are assessed at $100,000 will go from paying $1,315 in property taxes this year to $1,301 next year.
The adopted budget also includes $2.63 million in projected casino revenue, which is an increase from the proposed $2.56 million.
Ferrari said he and the mayor had put together a budget they felt was appropriate to run the city. He did compliment the council on what they were able to work out and adopt on Friday.
“I think it’s a very good, solid budget,” Ferrari said.
Part of the $400,000 in changes also included scaling back several of the pay raises in the mayor's initial plan, which was a major sticking point for some council members.
The most notable was the previously proposed $41,000 raise for city Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, which would have brought him to an annual salary of $135,000. The adopted budget included a $5,000 reduction in Eidens’ raise, bringing his salary to approximately $130,000.
Eidens also draws a $73,817 annual state pension, according to SeeThroughNY. This comes from his service as a Schenectady County Court judge. He served as judge from 1995 until 2004 before choosing to not seek re-election.
Independent Councilman Vince Riggi cited the raises, and specifically the raise for Eidens, as to why he was voting no on the budget. He said it wasn’t fair to the city employees who were only getting a 2-percent raise. He said the workforce already isn’t happy, and they are the ones on the streets doing a lot of the work.
“Giving their bosses more doesn’t bring them happiness,” Riggi said.
There were several other raises that were reduced following changes to the proposed budget. City Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond saw his proposed salary of $132,000 get cut down to $129,591, Ferrari saw his proposed salary of $104,000 reduced to $101,000, and city Director of Solid Waste Floyd Slater saw his proposed salary of $83,000 adopted at $79,310.
Slater also was proposed to receive a $3,000 stipend, but that was cut out of the budget.
Another cut from the budget was the entire $43,812 annual salary for the position of city director of property management, which is currently vacant.
Marion Porterfield and Leesa Perazzo objected to the cut.
That’s because the position was viewed as a support position for Slater, who is said to be taking on additional duties. Both also noted there was only one nuisance officer within the the department, which deals with issues like unkempt yards, tires being dumped in residents’ yards and other quality of life issues. Perazzo said the person in that position is already overwhelmed.
“Now you’re getting rid of the support position that ensures the organization of what falls under that department?” Perazzo said of the director of property management position. “I have a major issue with that.”
City Council President Ed Kosiur said he would like to see the that department and the Codes Department merge. He also said the city was adding an additional four code enforcement officers who could step in to fill any gaps.
The other issues brought up by council members Perazzo, Porterfield and John Mootooveren were some additions made to the capital budget. They specifically pointed out the additional $2 million included for the Smart City Initiative, which would bring the total to $5 million that has been put away in the capital budget for the project.
National Grid did submit its implementation plan for the demonstration project on Oct. 24 to the state Public Service Commission. It includes a timeline that says the rollout of the project will begin this month and is projected to be completed in June 2021.
Mootooveren criticized the lack of a breakdown of costs for the project. He said when he asked McCarthy for a breakdown, he saw that only $1.4 million has been spent thus far. If there is a request to put more money aside for the project in next year’s budget, Mootooveren said he’d be voting against it.
“I made it very clear, if this proceeds into the next cycle, I will not support it if we do not receive a comprehensive breakdown,” Mootooveren said.
Perazzo, Porterfield and Riggi and voted against the budget.
Mootooveren, though, eventually ended up voting to approve the budget.
He admitted that he knows the city’s workforce is not happy and that he wants to see a better contract negotiated for them in the next cycle.
“It’s not a perfect budget, but at the end of the day, we have to move forward,” Mootooveren said. “With the next budget, I hope we can have a better budget that’s beneficial to both the taxpayer and everyone else involved.”
Joining Mootooveren in approving the budget were council members Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, Kosiur and Polimeni.
Polimeni said that while he still had concerns with the budget, which included the pay raises, he said he was happy with the result.
“This, in the end, is a sustainable budget,” Polimeni said.