Editorial: Fix Schenectady roads, even it takes a tax hike

Thursday, May 19, 2011
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Anyone who’s done any driving around Schenectady this spring hardly needed Sunday’s Gazette story to tell them that the city’s roads are in atrocious shape. And given the weekend’s other non-news news story — Saturday’s, about the city having the region’s highest tax burden — the idea of raising taxes to pay for the fix these awful roads need would appear to be a nonstarter. But maybe not.

Consider that the condition of more than half of the city’s 53 miles of road was rated either “poor” or “fair-minus” by the city’s own engineer. (He was probably inclined to understate the severity of the problem for political reasons.) Consider also that roads in that condition cost motorists money — by chewing up their tires, throwing their wheels out of alignment, snapping their axles, wrecking their racks, etc. Finally, consider that pothole-ridden roads are an accident waiting to happen, as they encourage motorists to drive like they were skiing the giant slalom.

So any savings taxpayers might realize by the city taking the slow road to fixing what should have been fixed all along will really be illusory if they have to spend more in car repairs, body work and medical care. As the headline in Sunday’s story indicated, the city’s road situation is a crisis; and the business-as-usual approach officials seem inclined to adopt for dealing with it — which will take at least a decade — is unacceptable.

Thus a case could be made for extraordinary measures — like a temporary tax hike of a few years’ duration to pay for the work. To ease the burden slightly on homeowners, this could take the form of a special road assessment (like the city’s garbage fee) that all property owners would have to pay. Or it could be a city-only gas tax of a penny or two per gallon, with the proceeds dedicated to road repair.

Of course, raising taxes of any kind in this city is politically difficult, given the extraordinary burden its taxpayers already shoulder. Perhaps that’s the argument the city needs to make to convince the state and federal governments that its roads are of far greater concern than the $14 million Erie Boulevard makeover — and thus the city should be allowed to trade in grants supporting that project for a giant road pavement project instead. But no sidewalks!

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May 19, 2011
1:02 p.m.
cel01 says...

"a special road assessment (like the city’s garbage fee)"!!!! I have to question just where you live. Bet it isn't in the city!

We are overtaxed and fee'd to death already.

This past budget they put in to use 100K to change the parking meters downtown. The ones there work perfectly fine but they now want ones you can access from your cell phone so you don't have to go back and keep putting money in it! Go figure.

Justify that!!!!!

Get real, you are so off the mark it makes me sick.

May 20, 2011
10:58 a.m.
smallvoice says...

Schenectady has demonstrated several times that they won't do the job correctly the first time (Upper Union, Downtown, and Seward Place are 3 examples). My tax burden accounts for 45% of my mortgage payment. How much more am I supposed to pay? How many programs and services do I have to support?

May 20, 2011
12:04 p.m.
dan says...

I'm also dismayed at the rate of taxes in the city of Schenectady. Look at this chart (from 2009) which shows tax rates around the capital district . Schenectady is already much higher than any other city around. They say it's because the houses cost less, even if they do, it's not as much less as the taxes are more... if that made sense. I'm in the process of buying a house in Schenectady, and my property taxes will be more than my mortgage payments. The property taxes alone will be about 1/3 of my take-home income- which I would actually be happy to pay, IF it was a a relatively crime-free city, with good roads and sidewalks everywhere, good garbage pick-up that comes on the same day every week with single-stream recycling, top school system, etc. None of which Schenectady currently has. That's my two cents.

May 20, 2011
2:12 p.m.
robbump says...

They're not bad roads. It's a "traffic-calming feature"!

Since people don't know enough to slow down when there are bad roadway conditions, just drop the speed limit to 15mph or lower.

But if you want a special tax, here's where to collect it: eliminate all free public parking, including on-street. Charge for it.

For awhile, the city would see revenues. As people find private (and cheaper) places to keep their vehicles, the city could narrow its streets, reducing the amount of asphalt it needs to buy and maintain, and snow removal expenses would drop significantly when there eventually would be no cars parked on the streets.

Additionally, Grandma, who no longer drives, would get a little "bingo money" renting out her garage and driveway, while slumlords and owners of property with poor ROI might build PRIVATE neighborhood parking lots that bring in better profits than the dilapidated buildings they replaced, while upgraded assessments see increased tax-revenues for government and schools.

Best part is - it's the users of roads who pay it, not property owners (who may or may not drive).

May 23, 2011
5:36 p.m.
Starman says...

This tax would be another nail in Schenectady's coffin. They are already chasing people out with high property taxes, no real jobs ( They are now destroying the last industrial park that could be used for that purpose)The tax income base is getting smaller by the year so now they turn to the people who do live here to support them. Schenectady will someday become a Ghost town with no jobs, no people living here and no reason to come here to buy things.
W.C. Fields said it best: "There is a sucker born every minute"

May 24, 2011
6:45 p.m.
robbump says...

My comments on financing streets was meant for every town, not just Schenectady.

Another advantage to my plan would be that as on-street parking disappeared, pedestrian movement could be re-assigned from current sidewalks to the part of the street previously used to park.

The entire street could be easily plowed during the winter, so that pedestrians could enjoy the (relatively) snow-free routes that motorists do.

Many property owners would no longer need to shovel sidewalks; pedestrians would be in marked lanes of the street.

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