COUNCIL TAKES AX TO TAX HIKE

Former analyst's suggestions guide Schenectady reductions; increase would dip to 1.7%

LAUREN STANFORTH
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

SCHENECTADY -- Fired city budget analyst Jason Cuthbert appeared to quietly get his revenge Tuesday night as the City Council passed along some of Cuthbert's suggestions to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars out of Mayor Gary McCarthy's 2013 budget.


The City Council made budget reductions that would now result in a 1.7 percent tax increase, a change from the 4.2 percent tax increase McCarthy had proposed in his spending plan.


But what was most striking was the revelation that McCarthy's budget had overestimated lines for things like vehicle leases, dental expenses and workers' compensation medical expenses to the tune of $1.5 million - information Cuthbert had quietly passed along to City Council member and lone non-Democrat Vincent Riggi.


On Tuesday night, Riggi provided detailed spreadsheets he said Cuthbert gave him. Cuthbert's suggested cuts were almost exactly the same as the money the council voted to take out of McCarthy's spending plan.


Finance committee chairman City Councilman Carl Erikson said Cuthbert did provide some suggestions for cuts, but that ideas came from unnamed others as well.


In September, Cuthbert thrust himself into the public spotlight when he openly criticized McCarthy for not negotiating for more money in the sales tax agreement with McCarthy's Democratic allies in the county. McCarthy said the city's sales tax deal was great in that it guaranteed increases for the first time in 15 years. He fired Cuthbert a few days later.


Cuthbert, who said he has yet to get another job, attended Tuesday night's meeting. He said it's common for governments to pad budget lines and then cheer about the millions they save in reserves at year's end. "But this was too extreme this year," he said outside the meeting.


As one example, Cuthbert took what actual lease expenses will be for four fire trucks and found that the estimates were overstated by $252,000.


The council made other cuts to the budget, like eliminating some raises that were scheduled for the city clerk and other administrators. In a surprise move, the council also agreed to cut a second assistant police chief. It was always assumed the first eliminated position would be an assistant chief moving up to take retiring Chief Mark Chaires' place. But under the new scenario, Assistant Chief Brian Kilcullen will get demoted to lieutenant and take a $40,000 pay cut. Kilcullen has applied for the chief's job, in addition to assistant chiefs Mark Seber and Patrick Leguire.


"I don't think it's directed at me," Kilcullen said about the cut.


In the end, the council took $868,645 out of the budget to offset the tax increase, but kept $1.38 million in a contingency fund in case the overestimates pan out. Council members voted 5-1 in favor of the new spending plan. Riggi voted against it, saying he wanted more cut out of the budget to bring the tax rate increase down to zero.


Meanwhile, McCarthy sat silent throughout the two-hour meeting. Afterward, McCarthy said briefly that he will review what the council did to see if it has any negative financial impacts.


City Attorney John Polster said he has to investigate how McCarthy would go about vetoing the budget, but he doesn't believe the mayor will do so.


The $20 hike in trash collection fees stayed in the budget.


lstanforth@timesunion.com - 518-454-5697