MAYOR'S BUDGET VETO OVERTURNED

MIKE GOODWIN Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Mayor Albert P. Jurczynski on Monday vetoed the $58 million 2004 budget passed by the City Council only to see lawmakers swiftly and unanimously override the veto four hours later.


In a veto message signed at 4:32 p.m., the outgoing Republican mayor accused the City Council of overestimating revenues and counting on an employee salary freeze that he claims is subject to collective bargaining in the spending plan they passed Oct. 31. ``It's smoke and mirrors, and it's not real,'' Jurczynski said in a later interview. He warned that Moody's Investor Services, which downgraded the city's bond rating to junk last year and is considering another reduction, would frown on the spending package.


But the City Council -- including the body's sole Republican, Cathy Lewis -- voted to override the veto by 8 p.m., saying little before taking their vote. The budget enacted by the City Council carries a 7.8 percent property tax hike, which means that the owner of a home assessed at $86,000 -- the average assessment for a single-family home in the city -- would pay $1,705 in city tax next year, an increase of $124. Jurczynski had initially proposed a 16 percent tax hike.


The City Council raised taxes 25 percent last year after an audit by the state comptroller's office revealed that Jurczynski's administration had misspent millions of dollars in capital funds to pay for day-to-day operating expenses. The city's bond rating was dropped after the audit was released, and another downgrade would leave the city with the lowest municipal bond rating in the state.


``Of all the people to be passing judgment on what he deems is an inadequate budget,'' said City Council President Frank Maurizio. ``It would be ironic if it wasn't so sad.''


The mayor claims the budget fails to budget money for raises for city workers, including garbage collectors and parks workers. He claims state law forbids the city from enacting a wage freeze. He also said the council failed to account for how the city will pay the county $650,000 once the sheriff's department comes in next year to guard prisoners in the city's holding cell. Eleven city cops are now assigned to that duty, but the change is being made to free up officers for other assignments. He accused the council of overestimating how much tax revenue would be collected next year.


But Mark Blanchfield, chairman of the council's Finance Committee, said the employees in the city's two civil service unions were covered by the Taylor Law, which requires binding arbitration to set the salaries of police and firefighters. The wage freeze, he said, was put in the budget as an alternative to layoffs.


Tax collection this year was ahead of the usual 92 percent collection rate, so he said the council felt comfortable setting a budget that relies on 93 percent of taxes being collected.


Also Monday, the City Council, after a brief public hearing, passed legislation that allows a local businessman to move forward with plans to turn two downtown buildings into office space and a museum to celebrate General Electric Co.'s history in Schenectady.


Thurston Sack, owner of Canal Supply, wants to convert 132 Broadway, the one-time home of the Schenectady Gazette's printing press, into the Thomas A. Edison Exploratorium, a $30 million facility that would display decades of electronic equipment invented by GE.


Sack also wants to relocate his business at 136 Broadway. The two city-owned buildings, located just north of State Street, have been damaged by years of neglect and need extensive repairs.


The City Council held off on naming Sack the preferred developer for the two buildings, saying they wanted to hear from two other developers, including Herman Singh, a Queens-based mortgage broker who has been instrumental in luring Guyanese home buyers to Schenectady. Singh and another man have tentative plans to open restaurants at the Broadway locations.


However, city lawmakers agreed to allow Sack to make repairs to the buildings under an agreement that if the building were sold to one of the other investors the repairs would be built into the city's price and Sack would be reimbursed.