9/30/19 – Albany Times Union


Schenectady mayor proposes tax decrease, thanks to casino revenues

For the fifth straight year city residents will see their property taxes fall — this time by under a half percent — under Mayor Gary McCarthy’s tentative 2020 budget introduced Monday at City Hall.

The $112 million budget proposed for next year features about $2.9 million in casino host fee revenue, up an estimated $265,000 this year compared to last year, according to Schenectady Finance Commissioner Anthony Ferrari. The addition of sports betting has been a boost to the casino, according to casino officials. In the first week of the NFL season, Rivers Casino & Resort handled $346,682 in sports bets.

“As our taxes are going down our (property) values are going up,” he said.

The 0.46 percent drop in property taxes is roughly the same as the reduction approved last year.

The tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — is $30.6 million, about $175,000 less than in the 2019 fiscal plan.

The spending plan, which must be approved by City Council members, also calls for a Park Director, a position that the city once had, and a new Schenectady Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) foreman.

SNAP crews are city employees who work for the Department of General Services.

McCarthy’s preliminary budget also seeks to increase his annual salary from $96,700 to $112,483.

McCarthy, a Democrat is seeking a third 4-year term in November, formally announced the reappointment of Molly McElroy as the city’s tax assessor.

He said during McElroy’s tenure the city’s equalization rate has dropped from 123 percent to 105.

“With the trends, I feel comfortable that when we’re here next year, we can look at being at a full 100 percent equalization rate,” he said.

An equalization rate is the state’s measure of a municipality’s level of assessment and how close a property’s assessment is to its actual value. The rate is designed to ensure that owners of properties with similar full market values pay an equivalent amount of taxes.

The amounts earmarked in 2020 for the police and fire department budgets are $19.9 million and $11.2 million, respectively — both a slight increase over last year.

The mayor’s presentation also included discussion of plans to make Schenectady a “smart city,” primarily through advanced street lighting technology as part of a partnership with National Grid.

He said the utility company will be installing new enhance energy efficient LED lights throughout the Electric City that will allow the city to create “dimming schedules during off-peak hours to generate additional energy savings.”

“The conversion to LED street lights will not reduce our energy costs but our carbon footprint,” he said, adding that as part of Phase 1 the lights will be installed in two areas of the city.

The technology, said McCarthy, also will have the capacity to detect gun shots through acoustical sensors as well as improve traffic flow. As a result of traffic improvements,  Schenectady will become more pedestrian-friendly, he said.

The technology also will lead to improved access to public Wi-Fi.

Ferrari said the city is relying on about $3.4 million in surplus, down from $3.6 million in the current budget.

Afterward, City Councilman Vince Riggi,  the lone non-Democrat on the governing body, said he was happy that the city would be getting back a parks director and SNAP crew foreman but expressed concerns about the projected rise in money allocated for health-care costs.

“I hope that the increase in health-care costs are real and they have documentation to prove it because what I’ve found in the past is that was a line to pad the budget,” he added.

City leaders will hold several budget forums before scrutinizing the spending plan.

A public hearing on the budget is set for 7 p.m. on Oct. 15.

The panel must adopt a budget by the end of October.

New Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman is slated to unveil his first budget Tuesday evening.