SCHENECTADY -- Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city will close 2018 with a surplus and requested a City Court judge seat be eliminated during his State of the City address Monday.
McCarthy delivered his speech ahead of Monday’s City Council meeting. He not only remarked on the successes the city experienced during 2018, but also what he hopes to see done in the coming year.
“The city of Schenectady is doing well; 2018 was a good year for our community and we are positioned to continue that performance in 2019,” he said.
Some of his highlights included a reduction in taxes by 6.5 percent over four years, including a 1.06 percent tax cut that was approved for the $86.7 million budget for 2019.
“To build on that, I’ve directed the new LED light system in the City Hall clock tower to be turned green tonight to reflect the operating surplus Finance Commissioner [Anthony] Ferrari has told me to anticipate when we close out the books for 2018,” McCarthy said.
Ferrari said after the speech it was too soon to say how much that surplus will be.
This announcement came following last year, where the city closed the books on 2017 with a $1.68 million deficit, which was eventually closed using money from the city’s fund balance, or surplus account.
City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo, though, said she didn’t think there should be a surplus at all. It’s money she wished could have been used to give a better tax cut to city residents.
“I think we should be as close to the numbers as we can with our taxpayers’ dollars,” said Perazzo, who was one of three to vote against the 2019 budget. “But I’d rather it be a surplus than a deficit, that’s certainly a good thing.”
McCarthy also said the city sold 146 vacant and distressed properties to bring in $2.4 million in gross revenue last year, a record. He said the city still continues to address problems with vacant properties, a little less than 800 in the city.
He also spoke of the continued development in the city. This included a new $13 million Boys & Girls Club being built near Quackenbush Park and the opening of the first phase of The Community Builders’ development on Hamilton Hill -- the $22 million Hillside View Apartments on Craig Street. The mayor also noted the $22 million train station that opened in October.
The speech also included praise for the city’s public safety departments as McCarthy said there was a 6.5 percent drop in violent crime in 2018, as compared to the city’s five-year average. McCarthy said this was part of the 36 percent drop in violent crime the city has seen since he took office in 2011.
“Our Police, Fire and Codes departments are working together under strong leadership of [Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens],” McCarthy said. “This unified environment is creating real results and value in Schenectady.”
Police Chief Eric Clifford lauded the mayor and council members for their support of the Police Department. He also thanked former Chief Brian Kilcullen, as well as assistant chiefs Jack Falvo, Michael Seber and Patrick Leguire for the structure that was left behind for him when he took over the department.
“Every year, we’re continuously looking at our operations and are seeing how we can improve upon the previous year,” Clifford said.
McCarthy noted during his speech that the city will see Guido Loyola retire from his seat as a City Court judge this year. He took that opportunity to mention his intention to ask that the state Legislature eliminate the position that was created in 2013, leaving the city with just three judges.
“The full integration of the fourth position with the related requirements by the [state] Office of Court Administration has the potential to cost the city in the range of $3 million,” McCarthy said. “Very simply, three city court judges can handle the case load.”
McCarthy said he would request council members vote on a resolution requesting the state Legislature remove the fourth judgeship from the state budget next week.
This was news that caught a few council members by surprise.
Both City Council President Ed Kosiur and independent Councilman Vince Riggi said it was the first time they had heard about McCarthy’s request.
Riggi declined to weigh in on the subject until he heard more.
“I know we keep hearing crime is down, but our Police Department is very busy,” Riggi said.
Kosiur said he wanted to hear from McCarthy on where he came up with the $3 million figure and where the money would go.
“Truly, we need that fourth judge, as far as my personal feelings, without seeing [McCarthy’s] statistics or his reasoning behind it,” Kosiur said.
Perazzo also threw some cold water on the idea and said she would have more questions for McCarthy on that point.
“I think we definitely need to look into the court schedule because from what I know, we have four very busy judges,” Perazzo said. “I don’t think anybody is sitting around, waiting for cases to come to them.”
Overall, though, Kosiur thought McCarthy’s speech was good. He said it highlighted the success of the various partnerships throughout the city that have lead to its success.
“I just think it’s that good mesh that we have throughout the entire city that’s leading us in the right direction,” Kosiur said. “I think we need to continue moving forward.”