Stratton warns of difficult times ahead
SCHENECTADY Mayor Brian U. Stratton bid goodbye to the city Monday in his final State of the City address, two weeks before he leaves office.
He said the future is bleak.
Cuts to federal and state aid could devastate the city, while pension costs may skyrocket, he said.
He warned that pension costs may double in the next four years, to more than $10 million.
Considering the financial future, he urged the City Council and the next mayor to consolidate everything they can — up to and including the city itself.
He called for the city and the surrounding municipalities to eventually consolidate into one governing body.
In the meantime, he said, the city should consolidate whatever back-office police functions it can, starting with less-controversial items like record storage.
But he said Schenectady should not stop there. City officials should keep fighting for consolidation of the entire police department, he said.
He stressed the fiscal advantage of countywide police consolidation.
“We could effectively cut property taxes by 20 percent,” he said.
He also urged the council to fight for federal aid. The federal government may halve the Community Development Block Grant money that the city already budgeted for this year, forcing the city to close pools, cancel summer park programs, cut back on extra summer police patrols and eliminate some street paving to make ends meet.
But he did not ask the council to fight the governor’s proposed cuts in state aid. Stratton, who got his new state job through the governor, called the governor’s proposals “tough, yet necessary.”
Stratton will become director of the Canal Corporation on April 4.
He told the council to be “more creative” to fund its infrastructure, parks and public safety despite the cuts.
“I am confident that our city will also be sustained in meeting those challenges because of what we have accomplished in the last seven years,” he said, citing the city’s good credit rating and the many ways in which it already saved money through shared services with the county and school district.
“Together, we have done great things,” he said. “But by no means are we done.”
He argued that more consolidation will be the key to success.
“Consolidation must continue to be an even more prominent part of the future of this city,” he said.
Residents quickly responded during the privilege of the floor portion of the City Council meeting, directly after Stratton’s speech.
Resident Harry Brand told the council members that they must step up in Stratton’s absence. Council President Gary McCarthy will run the city, but for now it will be only on a part-time basis. He has said he will rely on department heads to keep the city going this spring.
Brand said the other council members must “be more involved” in the management of every city department.
“It’s up to you people to get on their tail and have them do the right thing,” he said.
Resident Vince Riggi thanked Stratton for being “frank” about the city’s financial situation.
But he said Stratton’s advice to the council ignored one of the city’s most important needs.
“I think the thing that was left off was the neighborhoods. We need a plan for making the neighborhoods safe, a place where people want to live,” Riggi said. “To put in a plan would be something. Right now we have nothing and the neighborhoods are certainly suffering for it.”
“We do need much more, in a financial sense, to reconstruct our neighborhoods,” he said. “I would absolutely add that to the list.”
He told the council that members should ask for federal money to rebuild streets and sewer and water systems, as well as funds to demolish abandoned buildings.
Stratton also received a plaque Monday from the council. Councilwoman Denise Brucker presented the plaque, which thanked Stratton for his years as mayor and as a city councilman.
“I remember when you were sworn in, we had quite a road ahead of us,” she said. “And we still have a road ahead of us, but we’ve come miles down that road.”
She praised him for persevering despite opposition. Although she did not describe the challenges he faced, others lauded him for his two-year fight to remove corrupt police officers from the force and get a new contract that restricted the benefits that some officers had abused.