SCHENECTADY — The city’s crime rate and property taxes are down.
Home values are up, and investment downtown and in the city’s neighborhoods is ongoing.
“We are now in a time when we should all be proud of our accomplishments,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said on Monday as he gave his assessment of how the city is faring in his state of the city address.
Unlike last year, when the mayor proposed eliminating one of the city's four judgeship position, there were no major policy proposals in this year’s address.
Rather, McCarthy pledged to continue momentum, touting a number of statistics indicating the city is on the right track, including a 10.5 percent increase in tourism countywide in 2019 over the previous year — visitation that generated $309 million in spending — as well as burgeoning conference business at Rivers Casino & Resort.
He said the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative state grant recently awarded to the city shows Schenectady is a regional leader that can complete significant projects.
The mayor, who was sworn in to a third term on Monday, also briefed attendees on progress with the Smart Cities program: The city recently held four public hearings on the program; the roll out of National Grid street lights outfitted with new technology has been completed in about 95 percent of two of the five total planned zones; new technology is being rolled out as part of ongoing reforms to the Codes Department; and city police have begun wearing body cameras.
McCarthy projected the equalization rate would be reduced to 100 percent next year, down from 123 percent in the 2015 adopted budget.
“Which means the assessment roll will equal what properties would and should sell for in this community,” McCarthy said.
This year’s 1.54-percent property tax cut resulted in five straight years of tax cuts for property owners, he said.
And working with the Capital Region Land Bank, 200 distressed properties have been demolished since 2014.
The mayor also pointed to investment efforts in the city’s neighborhoods, which have long suffered from disinvestment and creeping blight, such as new affordable housing complexes in Hamilton Hill and Eastern Avenue, renovations at public housing at Yates Village, the construction of two new libraries, and the new Boys & Girls Club in Mont Pleasant.
The city also will reconfigure the heavily trafficked Craig Street-Main Avenue-Chrisler Avenue intersection this year to be more pedestrian friendly, he said. He pointed to the recent transfer of the closed Carver Center to a non-profit group for a possible relaunch.
McCarthy aims to boost the city’s fleet of electric vehicles this year and install more charging stations on Liberty Street.
And with the 2020 Census quickly approaching, a key priority is ensuring a complete count so the city doesn’t lose out on federal funding or representation, he said.
The mayor also hailed both the city's Police and Fire departments for ongoing work to provide professional services.
But McCarthy did not mention some of the issues that have rankled the public recently.
The city was heavily criticized by the public in December for the length of time it took to clear streets following a storm that dumped two feet of snow.
And a new voluntary pilot program to replace sidewalks saw costs come in at double the projected amount last week.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo she generally agreed with the mayor’s assessment of the city.
“We’re moving in a positive direction," she said. "The statistics show incremental improvement, which is a wonderful thing, and we’ll just keep plugging forward."
But, she said, “It would have been nice to hear more about the development going on in the city because we do have hundreds of millions of dollars in development.”
MOOTOOVEREN ELECTED PRESIDENT
Councilman John Mootooveren was sworn in as new City Council president, taking over from outgoing Councilman Ed Kosiur — but not before a minor skirmish.
Perazzo unsuccessfully attempted to nominate Councilwoman Marion Porterfield as president, a measure that was defeated 5-2.
Porterfield, who had expressed interest in leading the body and is its second-most senior member, chafed at comments previously made by her colleagues that she would be denied leadership because she bucked the city Democratic Committee by backing insurgent candidates in their bids for election.
Instead, she said, she was trying to help the party fulfill its own stated goals of diversifying its ranks.
“It’s not going against the party, but as we start the new decade, it seems like an opportune time to continue to diversify as we said we wanted to do within this Democratic Party,” Porterfield said.
Mootooveren secured the top slot in a 5-2 vote, earning support from Kosiur, Councilwoman Karen Zaleski-Wildzunas, Councilman John Polimeni and new Councilwoman Carmel Patrick. Mootooveren voted for himself.
“Let’s work together to build this great city,” said Mootooveren.
Kosiur, Perazzo and Polimeni were re-elected in November.
Polimeni, who will again serve as majority leader, stressed cooperation, noting lawmakers with “ambitious personal or alternative agendas” will be bypassed.
He acknowledged quality-of-life issues can seem insurmountable at times.
“But we will get there by working together.”