Schenectady council looks at fee hikes
SCHENECTADY Increases in every fee on property owners’ 2011 tax bills are now under consideration as the Schenectady City Council tries to finish its budget on time.
In addition to the already-discussed increases in the property tax and trash fee, water and sewer rates may rise, too. But that increase would only be for commercial and multifamily property owners.
On Thursday, Council President Gary McCarthy proposed a 2 percent increase in both sewer and water rates, which would bring in $59,000, he said.
“It’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s shifting some of those costs to those who don’t contribute enough, in my humble opinion,” he said. “That would not affect our residential [rates].”
The money would subsidize the general fund rather than being spent on water and sewer services, he said.
Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen supported the increase, saying the city’s water rate is still quite low — roughly 1 cent for every 246 gallons of water.
Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard suggested a rate increase with steps, with higher rates for greater water use. Such a rate structure could encourage conservation, she said, and eventually save the city money.
“It costs us a lot to pump the water,” she said — about $1 million a year.
The council ended its last scheduled budget meeting Thursday with many balls still in the air and few solutions.
The council wants to find $600,000 to avoid laying off firefighters and closing a firehouse. But the job got harder when Mayor Brian U. Stratton revised his budget plan to drop the proposed curb fee, which was intended to raise $1.4 million. That means the council now needs to find $2 million to keep all of the firefighters.
Stratton is trying to convince nonprofits to pay a voluntary curb fee, which he hopes could raise $500,000 or more.
The council could also raise property tax rates — a 3 percent increase yields roughly $1 million in revenue — and council members are looking at that option to raise funds to keep the firefighters.
The council is also considering a $20 per unit trash fee increase to restore some of the parks maintenance workers. All of them were slated to be laid off in the mayor’s proposed budget, which might have forced parks to close.
The council wants to open the city swimming pools next summer, too. The Hillhurst, Front Street and Quackenbush pools are not currently in the budget. The council learned Thursday that it would require only another $50,000 to open them.
It actually costs more than $150,000 to run the pools, so council members were pleasantly surprised by the news.
Councilman Thomas Della Sala told them they were finally benefitting from a budget error.
“Some of the costs were, in error, left in the budget,” he said. “So it means less pain” to reopen the pools.
The council still has not publicly discussed how it would use federal Community Development Block Grant funds in the budget. The money can’t be used on firefighters, but it could be used for some of the pools.
The council may meet this weekend to continue work on the budget, which it must adopt Monday. The council will vote on the final budget at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.