There are three ways the Capital District’s largest cities are balancing their budgets.
Schenectady got a casino.
Albany has its hand out – again – $12.5 million from the state.
And Troy Mayor Patrick Madden wants to take the easiest, least creative way out and just jack taxes.
Not one city has mentioned cutting police and/or fire, by far the largest expenses.
Schenectady’s 2017 budget is $85.6 million with $19.5 million allocated for police and another $10.4 million for fire.
In Albany, where the budget is $177 million, $54 million is for police and $32.7 million for fire.
In Troy, where the proposed budget is $72.4 million, there is $19.2 million allocated for police and another $16.5 for fire.
Those numbers are just salaries for the active guys and gals. It doesn’t include benefits or their pensions, which is paid, obviously, for the rest of their lives.
And yet public safety is sacrosanct.
As an aside, by the time this goes to print, the City of Troy will have another budget talk between the warring city Council and mayor’s office.
The mayor wanted to jack taxes by 28 percent. If he didn’t get his way, he said, he would have to lay off 90 people from every department … except police and fire.
The Council, to its credit, said no way and offered a 12 percent tax increase. The mayor said no, the council in turn refused to override the tax cap, and only allow a .68 percent tax increase. If that stands, the mayor would have to trim some $5.8 million by the end of 2017.
By Monday night, they would have either come to an agreement to raise taxes by 14 percent, the mayor’s latest offer, and trim 2017 spending by about $2.9 million or keep spending under the tax cap.
One thing is for sure, though, public safety will not get touched.
(Since this version went to print, the Troy mayor and council did come to terms on a budget and agreed to raise taxes by 14.5 percent. About half of the 28 percent the mayor had initially proposed but more than the 9 percent the council had countered.
They didn’t eliminate any police or firefighters but the mayor will eliminate the Emergency Response Team, or Troy’s version of a SWAT, to save $80,000.
In 2012, the entire ERT quit when Chief John Tedesco wanted more say in their training schedule and regiment, more stringent physical qualifications for team members and more say in how long someone could stay on the team. In other words, he wanted young, in shape guys rather than old guys just padding their pensions. He also wanted more cops on the streets in uniform rather than off playing with big boy toys while he pays OT to cover their regular shifts.
Eight months later, after the union won yet another round, the entire squad came back and in that time Troy didn’t burn down and the bad guys didn’t take over.
I’m not saying having an ERT is a bad thing but it’s not a necessity. In fact, it’s more of an expensive luxury you don’t really use that often – like a Harley Davidson in upstate New York. Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of calls for battering rams, semi-automatic machine guns or riot gear. A cop in uniform walking the beat is a much more effective, proactive crime fighting tool than the ERT, which reacts to a situation already out of control.
Madden also wants to eliminate the School Resource Officers. I’m not sure what he has in mind, but Tedesco and Mayor Harry Tutunjian wanted to redefine the SRO to make sure they weren’t on a 40-hour a week study hall.
If Madden gets half the backlash Tedesco and Tutunjian did, you can bet the cops will be back at the schools before the kids out back finish smoking their joint.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)
A few years ago, officials in Troy and Albany floated proposals to close just one fire station in each city to consolidate operations and save some money. The respective unions, of course, blew a gasket and said small babies would surly perish if such an unthinkable thing happened. The public loves firefighters and, of course, didn’t want to see small babies die, so many were against the move. The politicians caved, and Engine 1 in Albany and the North Street Station in Troy remain open.
Back to the police.
When I first started covering Troy in around 1998 there were about 98 cops. Now there are 128.
In 1998, there were 2,482 index crimes in Troy, according to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. Of those, 262 were considered violent.
In 2015, there were 2,441 index crimes reports in the city and 428 of those were violent.
Is it really worth 30 more cops?
On the other side of the public safety ledger in Colonie, which is just under 60 square miles and has a population of just under 84,000, every firefighter is volunteer. Just to compare, Albany is 21.8 square miles and had a population of about 95,000 as of 2013. Troy is just 11 square miles with a population of just under 50,000 and Schenectady is 10.9 square miles with a little less than 65,000 people.
I know the 12 different fire departments in Colonie love their toys – fire trucks and palace-like fire houses – but it’s up to the taxpayers in each fire districts to approve or deny the budgets every year.
I know too cities are built differently. There are three- and four-story homes built within a foot or two of each other and fire in one of those could take out an entire block rather than a single home built on its own lot in some subdivision.
Professional firefighters are certainly needed, but a compliment of volunteers could save money and provide the same service,
Try selling that one to the unions, and watch them up the ante on the number of dead babies.
Jim Franco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (518) 878-1000.