SARATOGA SPRINGS — Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5. and up for vote in the City of Saratoga Springs: All five city council seats. Those positions are: mayor, and four commissioners — accounts commissioner, department of public works, finance, and department of public safety. Under the city’s commission form of government in matters of governing, the voting power of each of the five city council members is equal; each council member gets one vote.
Also up for vote: Both supervisor seats. Supervisors represent the city of Saratoga Springs at the county level.
The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County hosted a pair of Saratoga Springs Candidates Nights, which were staged Oct. 21-22 at the Saratoga Springs High School auditorium. The event featured contested races: eight candidates vying for four council seats, and three candidates vying for two supervisor seats.
Candidates were allotted opening remarks, closing statements and were asked to respond to questions from the audience. LWV distributed cards to the audience to secure their questions as they entered the hall. The questions which were chosen to be read, were selected by two members of the LWV. The group defines itself as a political organization that encourages citizen participation in government but does not support or oppose any political candidate or party. The comments were made by the candidates during the two candidates nights.
Campaign finance figures, which are a matter of public record, are available for viewing via the NYS Board of Elections. The financial disclosures come from the latest figures available, filed on Oct. 4. The final filing date prior to the election is Friday, Oct. 25.
Each night was attended by approximately 200 people. Ann Krul, a resident of Wilton, acted as moderator.
• Candidates: Incumbent Meg Kelly (D, WF, I) and challenger Timothy Holmes (R). Meg Kelly for Mayor 10,000. Friends of Tim Holmes $4,400.
• What is your response to city residents who are inconvenienced by ongoing development?
Holmes: There are a couple of things associated with that. Number one: How does it affect our quality of life here, and 2: What are the capacities of the city for managing the levels of traffic we’re attracting, not to mention the infrastructure to support many more residents. Those questions are very much at the top of the agenda I would like to go into as mayor. We have to look at our planning strategies and processes. Things are moving so fast today in development that I believe we have to streamline the planning process so that citizens can be heard more directly. It’s just imperative we have more feedback from people.
Kelly: I would first refer everyone to the Comprehensive Plan that was passed in 2015. That is our guiding document, along with the zoning ordinances. It’s also who you put on the Land Use boards as mayor. We have really been doing our due diligence to put the right people on, to see the right growth in the city and the right decisions being made. Comprehensive Plan, zoning ordinances and the Land Use boards are critical to be following.
• Will either of you pledge you will do away with free health care for life after 10 years of service?
Both candidates said it is something they would pledge to do.
• Charter Change is coming up for vote. Do you favor or oppose the proposal?
Kelly: I’m not going to say for or against. I lived that nightmare once and I’m not going to do it again. I learned from my experience that it is up to the people. Let the people vote and if we’re going to have charter change the people of the city will do it, not Meg Kelly.
Holmes: I understand that is on the ballot for November 2020. The people will decide, and I would absolutely adhere to their decision on that if I am in office.
• Explain your position on hospital expansion
Holmes: We all love our hospital and I would like to see it prosper and continue service to this community. The question is partly in the details of how they are going to grow. They have a substantial campus. There is a proposal about the zoning on a piece of land they just bought which lies in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I believe the hospital would do well to follow its future path to start building up on its own campus - it has 30 acres, 20 are blacktop and 10 are buildings – and they’ve got lots of opportunity to do that. I’d be in favor of them building on it according to the zoning that’s there. However, should they move to take that property off the tax rolls, I think that they would face an uproar from the taxpayers. Further, if they should turn it into a tax-free housing development, I believe that would be unfair competition to all of the housing that already exists in the city.
Kelly: On the hospital issue, what Meg Kelly thinks is irrelevant. My responsibility under the law is to see that the zoning ordinance is in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan. So, that’s what we will do.
• What steps will you take to keep downtown beautiful for residents, visitors and businesses?
Holmes: Regarding people in dire circumstances who come into the city who are homeless, there are ways to deal with this by working with the county and having the county do its fair share - distributing the resources for that and also facilities in other towns in this county, rather than this city taking it all on.
Kelly: The parking garage is vital to the City Center. The City Center is the economic engine for Broadway, so those things go hand-in-hand. With those two things happening I think we’ll have the bigger conventions coming in. That’s why we need the parking garage. We lost 14 events due to parking issues. They’re going elsewhere and we want them to come back here. The music downtown at night is a constant problem, because I get the phone calls Monday morning.
• What are your goals the next two years in your position as mayor?
Holmes: We want to get hold of planning processes, we want to complete the Unified Development Ordinance – which would include an updated zoning map, and that would absorb the Comprehensive Plan that Meg referred to, because these documents are years out of date now. And that is, in part, what is causing confusion and turmoil in council chambers and for residents. We need to get those documents finished.
Kelly: I have a few initiatives that I want to see finished. One is: I want to see that parking garage completed; I want to see Geyser Trail completed. One has broken ground, and the Geyser Trail will break ground this fall. We need an Eastern Ridge EMS station, and that’s critical. I’ve been working on that diligently since April and we should have something to announce soon. We need to finish the UDO as my opponent said; continue to work on our building and Planning departments to streamline the permit process; to reinvent our Recreation Department, because after the (City Hall) fire, we moved into the Rec Center, so we need to reinvent that recreation department.
• Candidates: Robin Dalton (R,C,I,L,SAM) and Kendall Hicks (D). Campaign funds: Dalton for Safety $24,400. Friends of Kendall Hicks $1,280.
• Top Priorities
Dalton: my top priority is as a strong voice for city police and fire departments at the City Council table, while working to address public safety issues: adding officers to an understaffed police force, adding a fire/ems station to serve the eastern plateau, a comprehensive approach to helping the homeless population while ensuring a permanent location for Code Blue, and ensuring school safety and addressing opioid addiction.
Hicks: Affordable housing and protecting the green belt, finding a permanent solution for Code Blue and a fire/ems station for the eastern plateau.
In what way will you address the climate? (Note: In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the City Council on May 21 adopted a resolution in support of the Paris Climate Agreement).
Dalton: I support every initiative in the Paris Climate Accord agreement and pursuing that to become a greener and more responsible community in terms of climate change and everything the Paris Climate Agreement stands for.
Hicks: I also support the Paris Climate agreement. Our city is doing a fairly good job in developing our green space and maintaining our urban forestry. I think that’s really important, because we have a city that’s rapidly developing.
• Envisioning what Problems May be Encountered
Hicks: The willingness for the other side of the table to come to the table with fairness; it takes two to come to the table and have a conversation that we have to have civilly, and to work through any issue that we have in our community.
Dalton: Addressing schools, parents and educators and talking about what to look for in a child who may be suffering from an opioid issue, because they’re (authorities) going out and using Narcan far more often than I realized, and their concern is that the residents of our community are not aware that this problem has seeped into
• Describe your Position on Guns In School
Hicks: Weapons in schools, it becomes a great divide for our community as we’ve seen in the past, but my decision is weapons in schools is not the issue – it’s having the right people with weapons in our schools. We need officers with the proper training – the most up-to-date training, dealing with people with mental disabilities, with mass shootings. As a community we need to allow our school board to do their job and give them the latitude to be able to make decisions about what schools we have our weapons in, and to what capacity.
Dalton: I think the most successful approach would be to use a school resource officer in every school, that school resource officer model as laid out by the Sheriff’s Department. That means an active duty sheriff’s department officer in every school.
• Biggest Problems to Solve in the Future?
Dalton: The most pressing issue to me is the understaffing of our police department. I’ve spent countless hours with our police department on patrol experiencing the various nuanced challenges that come with policing in Saratoga Springs. We need to increase the amount of officers we have on the police force and increase their funding if we want to make sure our city stays safe. We are, right now, extremely, extremely vulnerable.
Hicks: As Robin said, our police force is limited in manpower, but manpower alone won’t help us if we are not up on the proper technology and training and proper policies in place to protect our citizens.
• Candidates: Incumbent Michele Madigan – (I, WF,SAM) and challenger Patty Morrison (D). Citizens for Madigan $12,275. Friends of Patty Morrison $4,725.
• Opening Statements
Morrison: I don’t consider myself an activist or a politician. I consider myself a concerned citizen who is watching another election cycle pass without a choice, and without representation for all Saratogians.
Madigan: For eight years my adopted budgets have kept property taxes stable, two of those budgets decreased property taxes. All ensured the funds needed to function superbly – now and into the future. My administration has achieved and maintained a double-A-plus bond rating, due to my strong fiscal management policies.
• Potential Future Projects
Madigan: Having fiber (optics) on every single city street, to every single resident and businesses. This will bring healthy competition to our community. We have the incumbent – Time Warner Spectrum – and people are excited about the notion of competition, and additional Internet service providers. There are also some other sustainability projects I’m looking forward to working on. One is community choice aggregation – which should lower your energy costs but requires a city ordinance. Also: permanent solution to Code Blue. And a Fire/EMS station.
Morrison: To end taxpayer-funded lifetime healthcare benefits for part-time politicians, and to push for term limits; To implement a nepotism disclosure policy, which council members must sign should the city hire a family member, and to implement a process to collect unpaid taxes.
To continue to look to make Code Blue shelter permanent. An Eastside EMS station. I would look at shared services and have us as a resource for
• What is the relationship between the school board and City Council as it pertains to the SRO vote and the City Council amendment regarding the training of official officers.
(Note: During a special City Council meeting held Aug. 27, the City Council unanimously approved the signing of a two-year contract with the City of Saratoga Springs School district to ensure continuous School Resource Officer (“SRO”) coverage throughout the school year).
Madigan: The vote that the school board took last year to remove the armed security guards, I had no issue with that whatsoever. It was kind of interesting that it looked like I was portrayed as wanting guns in the schools: absolutely not. What the City Council came out with and put forward was a resolution to support the hiring of additional school resource officers. Something that was accepted by N.Y. State government, something that our chief of police had recommended. The reason I like the notion of a school resource officer – and that’s all the City Council’s resolution said – is because we would pay 25% to 40% of that salary. They would still be hired by the city of Saratoga Springs. I have put the money in to train five additional school resource officers and the school board has actually now asked us for those resources. When (the current officer) takes a vacation or is sick, we now have people who are trained police officers who can step in for him.
Morrison: As many of you know, I currently serve on the School Board. The City Council steered out of their lane to have a resolution. We are two separate governing bodies and when we caught wind there was going to be a resolution we had the superintendent (Michael Patton, Superintendent of Schools) and board members reach out to the City Council. And they were ignored. There is no reason why we needed to have that resolution, because it does state more than just hiring a school resource officer.
Madigan: This is not true at all. I spoke to Michael Patton directly about the resolution. Of course, the city police department is involved in school safety, so when an SRO is being recommended and offered to the school board, the City Council is going to have to pay for that because they are active duty police officers. No one was ignored and we felt that we were in our right lane because it was going to cost city taxpayer dollars.
Morrison: When I spoke to our superintendent, he said he reached out and did not get a response. I tend to believe our superintendent. It created an environment of negativity, and that is what I have the biggest problem with. There were residents there who didn’t felt heard in regards to this issue, asking the City Council to reconsider.
• Do you believe the hospital has a right to change their zoning and expand it to a residential neighborhood?
Madigan: Yes, based on the Comprehensive Plan.
• Do you agree there should be Charter Change?
Madigan: That’s up to the voters through referendum.
• Will you pledge to serve out your full term before seeking another office?
Madigan: Absolutely, yes.
Morrison: Should I be elected commissioner of finance, I will step down from the school board and take on my new role.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
• Candidates: Incumbent Anthony “Skip” Scirocco (R,C,I) and challenger Dillon Moran (D). Citizens for Scirocco $11,200. Friends of Dillon Moran $3,500.
• Opening Statements
Scirocco: Since first being elected, I focused on rebuilding the infrastructure, working within our means to keep taxes low and making sure our city is beautiful year-round. This election, I’m running on my record and accomplishments. This includes over $10 million of investments to the city’s water system and a four-year plan that includes an addition $4 million investment to replace undersized water mains; it includes the creation of a new water source at Bog Meadow to meet water source capacity and the preservation of Saratoga Lake as a recreational natural resource, and the emergency renovation of City Hall and a 50-year plan for the building.
Moran: I’ve been working in the field of water for over 25 years. We are at a point right now where there are some serious decisions that need to be made about the investment in our infrastructure. We are not on a good path right now. At a time where we are growing like we never have in our history, we are not making a reciprocal investment in our infrastructure. With growth comes a responsibility to maintain our infrastructure. Since 2014 we’re not collecting a single penny from that development to support the infrastructure going forward. That’s because of the choice Skip Scirocco made to eliminate connection fees. Connection fees are legal, they are used everywhere in the state including Clifton Park. They’re appropriate and it’s just. I will be looking to reinstate connection fees.
Scirocco: The City Council was the one that eliminated connection fees, not Skip Scirocco. The connection fees were challenged in court two times and lost. It was a failed policy and the City Council looked at it and said: that’s the end of it, we need to figure out a different way to get the infrastructure up and running in the city. And, we instituted a Capital Improvement fee, which is working; $10 million we were able to put into infrastructure in the city – that says a lot.
Moran: That fee that was eliminated from the developers was placed on all of you. If we’re talking about taxes, that’s the first thing to look at. It is entirely appropriate for developers to pay a connection fee when they connect themselves to our $500 million water system.
• If given $500,000 for infrastructure, where would you spend it?
Moran: First of all, we have a source of water that has not had a Safe Yield study on it since 1988. That’s inadequate. We need to understand how much water we actually can and do produce because at key flow we’re at about 85 percent of our capacity. We don’t know if that’s a safe level because we haven’t done the testing. I’d also put that money directly into a study to solve the problems of flooding at Geyser Crest.
Scirocco: I would look at stormwater, it’s obviously been an issue for a long time. At Geyser Crest, we are working on it with a consultant to come up with a solution to mitigate the issues.
• What would be the plan for backup water supply in the event Loughberry Lake is out of commission?
Moran: Our main water source, Loughberry Lake, is threatened. In terms of protecting our infrastructure, our water system, and keeping that ours, is essential to our future. There are taps along the county water pipe, in an emergency situation we can tap into them. Secondly, we’re going to change the way we treat our water. We use chlorine way too much and we’ve had problems because of that.
Scirocco: The city has a backup we developed a few years ago. We drove four wells out to Bog Meadow and it seems to be sufficient based on the Department of Health. Regardless of what my opponent is saying, everything in that water treatment plan is regulated by the department of health. As far as the county water system is concerned, I say let’s stay independent. It’s not going anywhere, and we have plenty of water. I’m not in favor of going to the county unless it’s as a last resort. As for the chlorine, if you don’t like the chlorine in the water, get a filter and you can filter it out. We talked to the experts on that and that’s the answer.