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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Temperatures were taken at the door and mask-wearing visitors shared their contact information on a sign-in sheet. A scattering of chairs were set socially-distanced from one another inside the council room.
For the first time in 25 months, the city this week hosted an on-site public meeting at City Hall. The 1871 building has been closed since an Aug. 17, 2018 lightning strike and subsequent fire and water damage forced its closure. An extensive, multi-million dollar renovation project followed. The building has yet to be fully re-opened. This week’s City Council meeting allowed for the temporary opening of a side entryway and main floor hallway and council room use. The building is expected to open to the public on Sept. 28.
City Council Meeting:
•The city resident U.S. Census 2020 response rate is 63% - “far below our goal of 80%,” Mayor Meg Kelly said Tuesday night. “Each child counted in the census represents, on average, $2,700 per year for our school district’s federal funding every year for the next 10 years.” Residents who have not already done so, are asked to complete the census questionnaire at: My2020census.com.
• The council adopted a resolution to extend temporary outdoor seating areas through Oct. 31. A previously adopted resolution allowing more space for restaurants to seat customers - as per COVID protocols – expires Oct. 7.
• Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced the city’s proposed 2021 Comprehensive Budget will be presented at the next City Council meeting, on Tuesday Oct. 6. The budget is currently working with $41.9 million in revenues for the 2021 budget – down from the $48.7 million budget adopted this year – a pandemic related shortfall of just over $7 million. “This is one of the most challenging budgets that I’ve faced during my 9-year tenure,” Madigan said. “Without assistance from the Federal government for state and local governments, and in particular for the city of Saratoga Springs, we are looking at large across-the-board expense reductions.”
• The search is underway for a Public Health Commissioner at the county Board of Supervisors. The hiree will be, for the first time at the county level, a medical doctor, Supervisor Matt Veitch said.
• The county is initiating a lease agreement to run Oct. 1 – March 31 with Shelters of Saratoga at the county’s building at 31 Woodlawn Ave. A portion of the building is to be used as a potential overflow location for the Code Blue emergency shelter. That main shelter is located on Adelphi Street. The building will also house a variety of county departments - employment & training, veterans, Dept. of Social Services, and Mental Health – to assist the homeless population, Supervisor Tara Gasto added. The county is seeking a buyer for the building, and the city is interested in purchasing it, Mayor Kelly said.
• Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton informed the council she is developing a report regarding homeless and vagrancy issues on Woodlawn Avenue, which is anticipated to be presented at the next City Council meeting.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Casino Hotel reopened their doors to the public, Sept. 9, after being closed for nearly six months due to COVID-19 protocols.
The scheduled 2 p.m. opening was moved up one hour earlier to accommodate hundreds of people who queued up outside beneath entryway signs that read “Welcome Back!” and “We’ve Missed You.” The line of people continued atop the extended sidewalk and deep into the parking lot.
Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced casinos were permitted to reopen starting Sept. 9 with a 25% occupancy limit and strict enforcements of guidelines including face coverings, social distancing, and enhanced air filtration and cleaning protocols.
“We’re open,” Saratoga Casino Hotel General Manager Alex Tucker said simply, watching as people moved along the pattern of shoe prints painted atop the pavement with the spacing requirements of social distancing in mind. The large reopening day crowd was not a surprise.
“We had a feeling this was going to happen because of how long it’s been and there’s also been a lot of chatter on social media,” Tucker said. “This is the new normal. We’re asking people to be patient, and we’re really trying to do this as safely as we can and still ensure guests have a great experience.”
Over the past several months, Saratoga Casino Hotel developed a plan to implement physical modifications as well as policy and procedural changes to protect the health and safety of workers and attendees. That “Safe Bet Plan” includes heightened cleaning, sanitation and hygiene protocols, the use of MERV-13 air filters throughout the property, the Installation of several hand sanitation stations and other measures. All guests will be required to enter and exit through the south entrance, located near Crescent Avenue.
The 25% building occupancy enforcement equals 800 to 900-person capacity, Tucker said.
“We have driver license scanning for contact tracing – it’s an opt-in program. You can opt-in, or you don’t have to. Masks are required. Were going to take your temperature, social distancing inside the building, six feet in between the machines in every direction.”
The property first began hosting harness races in 1941. The season was extended in 1978 to include winter racing, and also began to host recreational events and music festivals to make ends meet, when the introduction of off-track betting plunged the sport into decline.
In early 2004, video lottery terminals arrived, contributing to the annual purses of the harness track. The machines have been credited by some with saving the local harness racing industry. A 2007 expansion brought with it the on-premises Vapor nightclub and in 2016 a $40 Million project developed a 117-room hotel with an indoor resort, steakhouse and other amenities.
Hours will be limited to 10 a.m.-2 a.m. The four-hour shutdown will allow time for proper disinfecting and sanitation, the company says.
The Hotel, Morton’s The Steakhouse and the Jackpot Deli with simulcasting are all currently open. Casino amenities such as cocktail service, Mane Bar, Garden Buffet and Vapor remain closed. Their reopening will be reevaluated as restrictions are lifted.
Earlier this summer, the city of Saratoga Springs received $1.86 million in funding from the state for hosting a center with the video gambling terminals in the community.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the return of students for the fall semester, Skidmore College announced it has developed contingency plans should the transmission of COVID-19 spike among the college community.
As of this week, Skidmore reports 2 total positive tests to date – counting students and employees – and 6 people in quarantine. The dashboard may be viewed at: www.skidmore.edu/fall-planning/dashboard.php.
The college contingency plan is framed by five “alert levels” of increasing severity. They are:
Alert Level 1 - At this lowest level of alert, very few positive test results exist, and contact tracing shows a very limited number of employees and students on campus may have been exposed. Epidemiological analysis and contact tracing suggest that the situation can be contained, isolated and controlled. Affected students and employees are quarantined pursuant to DOH guidelines and this Plan. Affected areas are contained, isolated and decontaminated. Other campus operations or residential life activities are not affected.
Alert Level 2 - The number of positive test results and numbers of exposed individuals in quarantine are slightly higher than at the lowest level of alert, but Saratoga County Public Health is able to conduct effective and timely contact tracing and the college has been able to act swiftly to identify, isolate and contain transmission. There is no evidence of community transmission at this level. This level may require limiting operations in specific operations, areas or programs for a period of time to prevent ongoing exposure. A larger number of students, employees and/or facilities could be impacted but that impact is likely to remain time limited and is directly related to specific and already identified infections.
Alert Level 3 - A small outbreak has occurred on campus in a defined population, such as a building, department or residence hall. Confidence in the ability to accurately complete contact tracing in a timely way is moderate. It is also the case that it may be difficult to identify a specific area for containment, isolation and remediation. This level may require shutting down the areas impacted by the outbreak but does not require a campus-wide shutdown. Select programs may move back into an online-only environment with non-resident students staying off campus, resident students staying in their rooms and non-essential affected employees working from home. Individuals who test positive and who have been exposed are isolated and quarantined, potentially in bulk (e.g., entire building or more). The College may order shelter-in-place for students (stay and study in their rooms). Careful consideration will be given to whether on-campus services for employees, such those provided by the Greenberg Childcare Center, can be maintained.
Alert Level 4 - The College is experiencing a sizeable outbreak, as evidenced by numbers of current cases, increases in positive test rates or by multiple positive tests without clear sources of infection, and the College has clear evidence that contact tracing, containment, isolation and remediation efforts are not effective The College will “pause” and move to remote learning alternatives and remote work arrangements where possible. Non-resident students and employees whose presence on campus is not essential to the College’s daily operations will be restricted from coming on campus. Resident students will be required to shelter in place or return home for the pause. The “pause” is intended to be temporary (one to four weeks) and to control further transmission.
Alert Level 5 - The situation has escalated to the point where ongoing campus or community transmission is occurring at a significant rate. There is no realistic strategy to contain or control the situation. Given the timing in the academic calendar, the College has no other option than to shut down on-campus operations completely. All campus operations come to a halt, non-essential employees shift to remote work arrangements when possible, and students move to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. Campus will close for the rest of the semester and students will be moved out following the College’s protocol. Those unable to leave will appeal to remain on campus. Skidmore College will support any student who, for financial or other hardship reasons, cannot depart campus in response to a shutdown scenario.
If the College’s RO infection rate is < or = 1, meaning individuals who are infected infect no more than one other person, Skidmore says it will generally be able to continue in-person learning. Scenarios necessitating decreasing on-campus activities and operations or closing the campus will be communicated to all faculty, staff, students and parents by email and the College’s Fall Planning website.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A sleek 1951 Nash-Healey Series 25 Roadster - the first post-war sports car from a major American manufacturer, a classy 1931 Ford Model A – which features a classic “Ah-Oo-Gah” horn, and a 1958 red-and-white body hardtop which famously performed on the silver screen will be among the hundreds of cars at the fourth annual Saratoga Auto Auction in mid-September.
Billed as “an auction experience unlike any other,” the 2020 Saratoga Motorcar Auction takes place the Saratoga Automobile Museum Sept. 19.
“We’re going to have between 250 and 300 cars, and there will be three different bidding platforms,” says Bill Windham, auction director for the museum.
Perhaps the most notable, if not the most outright notorious is the 1958 Red and white two-door Plymouth Fury hardtop with automatic transmission and red vinyl and cloth interiors.
“Christine. The movie car,” Windham says, simply.
Bearing “her” famous CQB 241 license plate, Christine is burned into the memory of millions of cinephiles and book-lovers alike - screaming across street corners, battering architecture to fiery structures of rubble, and coming back from the dead in the 1983 film directed by John Carpenter, and the Stephen King novel that bears her name. In both book and film, she is vengeful, doesn’t take kindly to being disrespected and in every way lives up to her “Fury” name.
“This here is the best car I ever owned. Bought her in September 1957,” says Roland D. LeBay, an old man with a bad back introducing himself as a character in King’s novel, while reminiscing about the first time he laid eyes on Christine. “Brand-new, she was…red as a fire-engine on the inside.”
When Carpenter set out to make the film and match the vehicle King had placed as the lead character of his book, he reportedly placed ads across California searching for models of the car, eventually securing more than a dozen.
“With a lot of movie cars, depending on the shot and how it’s being utilized in the movie, it may just give the appearance of being the same car,” Windham explains. “Depending on the stunt it may have roll bars in it, it may not even have an interior in it - but this car is, inside and out, the real car. It is thoroughly documented as being one of the movie cars. The director of the movie used this car to go back and forth to the set, and it was used in some of the shots.”
Previous auction years by the Saratoga Automobile Museum have featured two-day bidding events, with staging at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. This year, vehicle check-in and on-site bidder registration begins Sept. 15. Preview day is Sept. 18, and the auction itself will take place during one, long, single-day event, which will run from 9:30 am until 6 or 7 p.m., and take place at the Saratoga Automobile Museum on Saturday, Sept. 19.
Bidding may be done in-person, by phone, or online.
The event will be streamed live so people may watch online via the Saratoga Automobile Museum website. All proceeds go to the museum in what is the largest generator of revenue the museum directs during the year.
For more information about the auction and how to register to bid go to: www.saratogaautomuseum.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — On Election Day, city residents will be asked to consider a change in the only form of governing that Saratoga Springs has known since its inception as a city in 1915.
In 2017, the last time a citizen-led City Charter referendum proposed change, the measure was defeated by a razor-thin margin of 4,458 - 4,448.
The current “Commission” form of governing features five council members – one mayor, plus four commissioners heading the departments of Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, and Accounts, respectively. Each council member is responsible for administering their own department as well as serving as legislators. In this council of five, each of whom is elected to two-year terms, decisions are made by majority rule.
The “Council-Manager” proposal calls for replacing that “Commission” form in favor of one that includes a mayor – elected by the voters of the city at large, and six members elected from city wards by the voters of those specific wards. Those six wards are to be comprised of equal voting population.
That city council of seven would then appoint, set the salary for, and hire a City Manager. The idea is that residents would be represented through the ward system, and the manager held to accountability via the city council.
A new group opposing the charter change proposal staged a gathering in Congress Park this week. They call themselves Saratoga Works and include co-chairs Connie Woytowich and Jane Weihe, and steering committee members Chris Obstarczyk, Courtney DeLeonardis, Janice Partridge, Jay Partridge, George Cain, and Joe Dalton.
Weihe said a change in Saratoga Springs’ current form of government would be risky during a time of a pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, and that this “expensive version of charter change” would politicize neighborhoods by dividing them into wards.
Those financial concerns are specifically related to what the overall costs could be should the plan be implemented; even though some city deputy or assistant salaries would be saved, new workers would still need to be hired to conduct the work the current city employees are doing, she argued.
“We don’t know what it will cost. This is more of a concept than a plan,” she said. A website, saratogaworks.org, was launched in conjunction with the group gathering.
Gordon Boyd is a member of the citizen group proposing the new charter for the city. Last summer, a group of 41 residents circulated the petitions necessary to place the proposition on this November’s ballot. A total of 1,565 registered voters signed the petition to put the proposal on the ballot.
“We’ve got a chance to start fresh coming out of this public health crisis,” said Boyd, adding that an information website is anticipated to be launched sometime around Labor Day, heading into the election season. If approved by voters, the measure is expected to take effect in January 2022.
The concept of a Commission form of government was founded in Galveston, Texas in 1901 after a storm ravaged the city, killing more than 5,000 people and creating the need for a useful way of post-disaster governing. It proved to be an efficient measure as well as a popular one. By 1912, 206 cities in 34 states had followed suit. Saratoga Springs adopted the commission form of governing shortly after it was incorporated as a city in 1915. Since its popularity in the early 20th century, however, many cities have since switched to other forms.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In January, Robin Dalton took office as city Public Safety Commissioner – the first woman to hold the position which oversees, among other things, the overall operation of the police and fire departments.
She grew up in Manhattan “in a really loving, happy home, and attended classes at the Chapin School, an all-girls school on the Upper East Side that lists among its alumnae Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Vera Wang, and N.Y. Mets owner Joan Whitney Payson. “Ivanka Trump was two grades below me,” Dalton says. Shortly after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Cornell University, in 2007 Dalton relocated to Saratoga Springs where she lives with her husband and their four children.
FROM LOCAL RESIDENT TO CITY GOVERNMENT
In 2012, Dalton began digging into city politics and observing council meetings. “To me it was very important to have experience in Saratoga and get involved in the community in a way to really understand the spirit of the city so I can represent the people who live here to the best of my potential. So, I really waited until I was ready to take this on because I knew it would be challenging.
“One of the best things about it was I perceived partisanship as not being a factor in how the City Council was voting. It didn’t seem people were making politically based decisions. The decisions were being made as for what’s best for the city. And I think that’s also been my happiest revelation over these past seven months. I don’t think there’s been a single moment where anyone has invoked my party to persuade me to vote one way or another. It’s a non-issue,” Dalton says. “Partisanship doesn’t have any role in how the City Council votes. And to me that’s a really good thing. That’s been really awesome.” Seven months on the job, Dalton sat down this week to talk about the status of several pressing city issues in this most unusual year.
When the city declared a State of Emergency in March, the city’s Emergency Management Plan directed the public safety commissioner lead a team to address the emergency. “That was a moment when our form of government was at its best,” Dalton says. The city’s Commission form of governing – which charges each commissioner with different responsibilities, yet equal political power was born specifically from emergency when it was implemented in Texas, in 1901 as a reaction to the Galveston hurricane.
“I was also fortunate to have a City Council that was supportive of how I was sourcing and disseminating information, which was taking it from our governor. It was disappointing to me we didn’t have a leader of our country who led by example – handling it with science and data rather than partisanship, so I was going to stick to the guidelines laid out by Governor Cuomo. I would say I love what he’s doing right now. Will I love what he’s doing six months from now? A year from now? Probably not, but that’s not going to prevent me from saying he’s done a great job handling the virus.”
A member of the Republican Party, she is unafraid to step outside any pre-conceived limitations regarding party and is something she says she was upfront about when first interviewing with the city GOP Committee. “I went through a list of things I knew they weren’t necessarily going to be happy about: I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-immigrant – but I wanted to be clear upfront about what I stand for.”
POLITICIZING A VIRUS
“Unfortunately, everything has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s not about your health necessarily, it’s about what you stand for, what party you’re with. I think that’s really sad and destructive. It’s been divisive but at the end of the day all I care about is that the city is as healthy as possible and simultaneously that our economy is strong. There is an incredible importance in both and we’re not here to put one above the other.”
“We have models we look at and we’re working very closely with the hospital. We are expecting positive cases to go up because kids are coming back to school. We need to predict these things. I don’t think it’s going to take us back to where we were at our peak, which was about 10% positive cases. Right now, we’ve dropped to under 1% which is fantastic. There’s a huge mental health component and our children have suffered immensely. We’re trying to give kids a little bit of normalcy.”
ADDRESSING THE NEED FOR A FIRE/EMS STATION TO SERVE RESIDENTS OF THE EAST SIDE
“We have done a site plan and needs analysis of the Henning Road location and put out an RFP for a design firm. We had planned on moving on this aggressively, but when the pandemic hit everything got paused.” The question now is how best to move forward in a tough economic climate. To that end, the city is exploring state aid and grant possibilities to assist moving forward. “I think this is a smart way to handle it that doesn’t put us in a situation of it being a financial liability. But we’re setting ourselves up such that we can use money from the state to complete the project and deliver for our east side residents their emergency medical needs while also not putting the city in a precarious financial position.”
HOMELESSNESS AND THE NEED FOR A PERMANENT CODE BLUE EMERGENCY SHELTER
“With this pandemic and this ensuing financial collapse, we’re going to be seeing a lot of people who are in distress in terms of keeping a roof over their head. And (homelessness) is not a one-size-fits-all problem. There are some people who are drug-addicted, people who have mental issues, people who have no interest in finding or seeking shelter and have established a lifestyle outside, downtown. That works for them, but it’s not something that as a city the residents want to tolerate. If you go over to the Woodlawn parking lot you can see it almost every day; it’s almost an encampment and really a struggle for the neighbors there. So, we’re addressing that – but homelessness is not something that can be solved by law enforcement. It can be solved by having community partners working together in the spirit that the Saratoga Collaborative to End Homelessness is working in. You need the county on board, you need all the social services to be on board and everyone needs to come at this issue wanting to get rid of all the roadblocks and challenges that are in place, to get people into housing and work through them in difficult and sometimes scary ways. Without that, I don’t know that there is a fix for this issue.”
“We also have this enormous need for a year-round shelter, and we don’t have that place right now. We’re just pushing people from one area of the city to the other, going around and around and it’s an enormous waste of time, energy, resources and ultimately isn’t helping the people who we want to help. So, It’s incredibly frustrating and incredibly challenging. That’s really a critical part of this problem. We have to have this permanent, year-round facility, and then it comes down to whose responsibility is it to financially provide this. I am very committed to solving this problem, but I also know the roadblocks and challenges ahead of us are significant.
RALLIES AND PROTESTS AND ISSUES OF RACE
“Emotions have been running extremely high – not just about race but of all these contributing factors, all over America. I can’t recall a time when people have been this traumatized and have had such heightened emotions and reactions.
“For any kind of significant change to happen it needs to happen as a community, not just as law enforcement. This is a Saratoga Springs conversation. We all need to be addressing how the experience of being white in Saratoga is very different than being black in Saratoga. (Our officers) have reached out to Black Lives Matter protesters locally, taking a knee with protestors, walking arm-in-arm with them. They’ve exercised incredible professionalism and the only thing they want is for people to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and the right to gather and protest and to be able to do that in one piece. The absolutely last thing I wanted was for anyone to be arrested and any kind of violence to break out.
“I will be very candid and say I don’t think having a Back The Blue rally was an appropriate choice at this time. I thought it was a bit tone-deaf and likely to make the challenges of addressing Black Lives Matter and racism and bias larger and make people louder and angrier and divide people more than it would bring people together. I’m looking at this in a bigger picture context. Because of this moment of time that we’re in, I really do feel we need to be focusing on how being black in Saratoga is extremely different than being white in Saratoga, and that’s not something people are necessarily ready to acknowledge, to work toward something better.
“I believe in my department, I believe in our professionalism. I also understand the families who have someone working in law enforcement wanting to show their support for what these officers have been doing, but unfortunately in the national context that immediately gets misconstrued or associated with racism or fascism or all sorts of political extremism. I know locally that wasn’t the intention at all, but it all led up to this horrible, stressful, awful moment where these two groups of people are screaming at each other, (figuratively) ripping each other apart, and it was so sad to watch because there’s no reason why one group should be pitted against another group. I think we all want a lot of the same things. To see how both groups expressed how emotional and angry they were was just a sad state of affairs.
“Believe in law enforcement. Believe that black lives matter. I think it’s perfectly normal to have both those things live in the same person. But what I’m seeing is people thinking you can’t be both these things, and that’s disturbing and sad. I think we’ll get through it, but we have a lot of healing and work to do.
IN 12 MONTHS TIME
“I hope we return to some sense of normalcy in terms of our behavior and how we interact with one another. I’m hoping that our health is good and that our economy is recovered. Life as we knew it. But, with this new and real threat of a Pandemic it’s going to be a challenge. We still don’t know everything we need to know about it. We still don’t have a vaccine. There are all these variables that need to be answered before we can say with confidence that we’re good, we’re safe.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — As the city begins to move toward budget season – a 2021 budget must be approved by the end of November – the estimated revenues that will factor into that budget are anticipated at nearly $8 million less than was budgeted for 2020.
“Even with the phased reopening, our city cannot expect revenues to rise to former levels immediately upon the reopening of our downtown,” city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan told the council this week.
“It is generally held that it will be months, if not years before the new economy establishes itself well. In addition social, behavioral and consumer changes due to closed businesses, wide-spread unemployment and other results of COVID-19 will continue to affect revenue collection well into the future.”
Madigan estimated that revenue collection - without any additional state or federal aid - at approximately $7.8 million less than the amount estimated for the pre-COVID world of 2020. As such, the 2021 general operating budget revenue is anticipated to be $40.9 million, down from the current year’s $48.7 million adopted budget.
Madigan reported the following year-to-date comparisons:
Sales Tax: year-to-date collection 19% lower than last year. More specifically - May 2020 is 37% less than May 2019.
Occupancy Tax: year-to-date collection is 54% lower than last year at this time. Specifically, 2nd quarter collection is 78% less than 2nd quarter collections in 2019.
Mortgage Tax: 0.24% lower than 2019, year-to-date.
Some Good News: The state released 80% - or $1.86 million - of annual VLT aid amount to the city.
COVID-19 SAFETY PROTOCOLS
City officials said this week that a newly amended state law will provide greater clarity in enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols. The amended law comes in the wake of some businesses and municipalities alike requesting stronger language than what had previously been issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as an Executed Order.
“The New York State Department of Health (on July 9) amended the Public Health Law, specifically Section 66, which codifies statutorily the requirements that Gov. Cuomo had implemented in the executive order and also imposed the ability for civil penalties associated with that, establishing authority for state and local municipalities to enforce those provisions,” City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said Tuesday.
“So it’s something we’re looking at to address that’s not necessarily punitive or restrictive, but lets people know that health is a priority for Saratoga Springs, that you can come here and feel comfortable,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
“We’ve been looking for ways to encourage and enforce people wearing face masks in and around Saratoga Springs. It continues to be a problem, and the problem has grown. We keep hearing from people who are uncomfortable to leave their homes, or uncomfortable to visit here because they’re afraid they’re not going to be safe and healthy if they visit our downtown,” she said, adding that the biggest problem is weekend nights on Caroline Street, where large crowds gather along the sidewalks outside late-night establishments.
‘It’s not really the bars and restaurants, they’re doing a great job, it’s the people who are coming downtown and wandering in big packs on the sidewalks (and) no one’s wearing a mask. So that to me is the more urgent situation for us to be able to address the safety issue through this public health amendment.” Dalton said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “We’re not going to be scouring Broadway in the middle of the day, seeking out people who aren’t wearing masks.”
DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco argued that the police had better things to do than to enforce people wearing masks. Commissioner Dalton responded to say there already exists a police presence along Caroline Street, and actions there wouldn’t take away from any other safety issues in the city.
Commissioner Madigan added that there is no reason why police wouldn’t want to ask large crowds who had gathered to disperse or to don masks, and that pedestrians exhibiting safety measures also provide a positive display for local economic reasons in assuring people it is safe to visit and shop downtown.
The amended Public Health Law – which may be read in its entirety on the NYS website under New York Codes, Rules and Regulations heading - contains some exemptions, and reads, in part: Any person who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance.
SARATOGA COUNTY DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH RESIGNS
Saratoga County Director of Public Health Catherine Duncan announced this week that she will retire, effective July 31. As such, the agency is currently actively seeking to fill the position of Commissioner Of Health.
The appointment to the position is for a term of six years at a salary of $132,446 plus benefits. Job responsibilities include to direct, manage and regulate the Department’s delivery of public health services throughout Saratoga County. Requirements include: being a physician currently registered to practice medicine in New York State and possessing two years of experience in administrative practice in a health-related organization or government agency. For more information about the position, call 518-885-2225, or go to: www.saratogacountyny.gov.
HEALTH & WELLNESS PROPRIETORS UTILIZE CITY PARKS
The City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday, and Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco announced Wednesday that Saratoga Springs based gyms, fitness trainers, and yoga studios are able to utilize Congress Park, High Rock Park, Geyser Road Veterans Memorial Park, and the Waterfront Park to host workout sessions without paying rental fees through Sept. 7.
Health and wellness proprietors can host classes at the specified parks by filling out a rental use agreement.
Regulations: No permanent equipment can be installed and a strict carry-in, carry-out procedure must be followed. Safety guidelines set forth by the CDC must be adhered to including mask wearing and social distancing. No loud speakers, loud music, or other activity interfering with others’ enjoyment of the park will be authorized. Providers must submit an anticipated schedule and location to inform the city of routine dates and times of usage, and DPW will resolve any conflicts between providers and/or other renters of the parks; location preference will be given to paid renters. A Certificate of Insurance must also be furnished.
COVID-19 Testing Sites and Antibody Testing Sites for Saratoga County change frequently and are updated at the Saratoga County website. Currently, sites include: Saratoga Hospital and Wilton Medical Arts – where COVID-19 and Antibody testing are available to Saratoga County residents of all ages with a provider order; Malta Med Emergent Care - Provider order required, and Saratoga Hospital Medical Group Primary Care in Ballston Spa - Antibody testing only – available with provider order. Appointment information, criteria for testing, and a regularly updated list of testing sites is available at: www.saratogacountyny.gov.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The bugler blows the Call To The Post. If there are no spectators inside the racecourse to hear it, does it make a sound?
In this unusual summer of a most unusual year, the racing season nonetheless got underway as scheduled on July 16, and is slated to run through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7. This year, a lot will be different. Perhaps the biggest is staging the races – or at least the start of the summer meet - without fans in the stands, in compliance with New York State guidelines.
Forty-eight hours prior to the start of the Saratoga meet, NYRA officials and members the city’s Public Safety department staged a joint press conference at the racecourse to discuss additional changes for the start of the summer meet.
“The critical part of this meet is we celebrate racing – but, we celebrate at home. This city cannot have people come to the track and try to watch the races,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
The city requested and NYRA complied with the installation of a temporary “privacy fencing” along exterior boundaries of the race course on Union and Nelson Avenues where it is feared fans may congregate on the sidewalk in close quarters to catch glimpses of the action inside.
“The COVID pandemic has really changed the way we do things – both personally and professionally,” said assistant city Police Chief John Catone, who along with Public Safety Commissioner Dalton, was joined by city Fire Department Battalion Chief Aaron Dyer at the press gathering on July 14.
Catone discussed the importance of having a “fluid safety plan” which can flex as COVID-related restrictions are either increased, or loosened – in the latter case enabling the potentiality of limited spectator attendance or horse owners at some point during the summer.
“We were trying to figure every potential scenario: no fans to partial fans to everybody’s going to be back to normal,” said Catone, adding that discussions between city officials and NYRA officials were initiated in April. “The safety and operation plan is very fluid,” Catone said, “and it’s also going to be based on what we see the next week or so, in terms of people who want to show up and try to catch live racing - and we’re going to deal with it accordingly. We want NYRA to have a successful meet but we also do not want to put ourselves in a position like some other states right now – where they opened too early, they didn’t control the pandemic and their numbers have risen dramatically.”
There will still be “a few” officers assigned to the track and its surroundings, including an officer with a bomb-sniffing dog, and others to deal with potential traffic and pedestrian issues.
YOU WANT TO MAKE A BET
In 2019, $2.1 billion was wagered on 2,000 races at Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont, according to the New York Racing Association. The Saratoga meet delivered the largest return of gambled money - $147 million wagered at the track, and a $705 million all-source handle – meaning many more dollars were spent on Saratoga races at off-track betting sites across the globe, than were at the actual track. Other 2019 betting dollars: Belmont Spring & Summer – 48 days, $525 million all-source handle; Belmont Fall – 37 days, $275 million; Aqueduct – 25 days Fall, $205 million.
This year, on July 13, NYRA announced that the Belmont Park spring/summer meet generated $15,466,198 in average daily handle from all sources, a 42 percent increase over the daily handle during 2019 spring/summer meet. And despite running 23 fewer days than in 2019, all sources handle during the spring/summer meet totaled $386,654,955.
Financially, the city of Saratoga Springs is estimated to suffer a $14 to $16 million revenue loss this calendar year, or a quarter of the city’s $48.7 million budget due to the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic. The city receives no money from wagering, said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. It normally receives funds via an admission tax; those funds go to Saratoga County and are then shared with the city of Saratoga Springs. However, with no fans in the stands as it looks right now, there will be no paid admissions and subsequently no funds to come the city’s way.
NEW RULES FOR JOCKEYS
Two days prior to opening day, NYRA announced a number of updated health and safety protocols that includes closing the track to out-of-town jockeys riding at other racetracks, and requiring all personnel working at Saratoga Race Course in any capacity to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property. That policy is inclusive of jockeys, valets, NYRA employees, trainers and their staff, outside vendors and credentialed media. A NYRA spokesman Tuesday said that a partnership with Saratoga Hospital was secured for a consistent stream of testing.
The 2020 Saratoga Summer Condition Book currently lists 22 active jockeys and three apprentice riders. This group is to be considered the regular NYRA jockey colony.
Any jockey who rides at a racetrack outside of Saratoga from opening day forward will be considered an out-of-town jockey and will not be permitted at Saratoga Race Course. Out-of-town jockeys not currently riding at another racetrack may be considered for inclusion in the regular NYRA jockey colony provided the jockey does not ride at another racetrack.
In addition to race day safety protocols including standard health screening and temperature check, NYRA says the jockey quarters at Saratoga Race Course have been substantially altered to provide maximum social distancing and reduce density. All areas accessed by jockeys during the regular course of a race day are closed to all outside personnel, including credentialed media, and are cleaned and disinfected throughout the day.
Jockeys and valets are not permitted access to the barn area. In order to work a horse in the morning, the jockey must meet the horse in the paddock and can then proceed to the main track.
Steeplechase jockeys must produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property and will be completely isolated from the regular NYRA jockey colony in a physically separate location. Following that day’s steeplechase race, which will be carded as race one, the steeplechase jockeys will depart the property.
NYRA will follow current Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and New York State Health Department guidance when determining the return of a jockey who has tested positive for COVID-19. This process will include a period of quarantine determined by the severity of the individual case followed by a series of diagnostic tests to rule out ongoing infection.
Following the four-day opening weekend at Saratoga, live racing will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Campfire s’moreo. Bourbon truffle maker. Baked placid cheesecake, and mango dragon fruit sherbet. There are more than 60 different flavors available at Stewart’s Shops, including those four which are part of the summertime limited edition kind. This summer, the company thought it a most appropriate time to re-introduce a limited-edition flavor that first premiered two years ago. It’s called: Civility.
“Just plain old kindness,” “getting along with people,” “putting out a positive energy to everybody you come across,” sound the endorsements in the company’s 80-second video clip re-introducing the ice cream flavor.
“It initially launched in 2018, a time when things were similar to how they are today - a country divided,” Stewart’s Shops spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said this week. “Right now, we’re having a big issue with masks. People are really divided on the mask issue. COVID-19 has put people on edge and we see a lot of hostility, customers yelling at each other in our shops about wearing a mask. What better time to bring back ‘civility,’” she says.
By definition the practice of extending basic politeness and respect to all citizens of society; by flavor, a vanilla based ice cream with a salty caramel swirl thought up by owner Bill Dake and created at the company manufacturing plant in Greenfield. “It’s a non-nut flavor,” she says. “We’ve had dozens and dozens of requests from customers to bring Civility back.”
Stewart’s Shops are deemed essential businesses and as such have remained open for the duration of the COVID period. It counts approximately two dozen shops within 10 miles of Saratoga Springs, 55 shops in Saratoga County and approximately 5,000 employees and 337 stores in New York and Southern Vermont.
On July 1, the company posted a lengthy statement on its web site detailing its priority to protect the health and safety of customers and employees, its adherence to CDC recommended guidelines and the protocols it was taking: the installation of plexiglass barriers at cash registers, offering hand sanitizer for customer use, regularly sanitizing high-touch areas, and posting signage to enforce customer social distancing, among them.
All shop employees - across New York and Vermont - are required to wear face coverings. Store signage informs that customers over the age of 2 medically able to do so are also required to cover their face with a mask or cloth face covering. However, it the customers’ responsibility to comply with the mask order.
“A mask is required, but we can’t put our partners in a position to enforce it,” Komoroske says. We’re trying to offer gentle reminders to customers – ‘hey, did you forget your mask today?’ There have been physical altercations in our parking lot. There have been customers chased with a tire iron. This mask issue has definitely divided people.”
The problem, she says, is the wearing of masks is not mandated by law. “If Ag & Markets came out with a law that said masks are mandatory, we would have better backing to enforce it as well,” she says.
“It’s not a law, it’s an executive order,” says Robin Dalton, public safety commissioner in Saratoga Springs. “There is no enforcement that is available to us as a local municipality to do anything other than remind and strongly encourage people to wear their masks. We are completely hamstrung. Our police department very much wants to follow the rule of law, but they are not going to write a ticket for something they know is not a law and not enforceable,” Dalton says.
“Personally – I think every single person should be wearing a mask when they step outside. If they aren’t around people, they should have it dangling on their wrist, like I do, so the second they see someone coming into their space, throw it on, or cross the street,” she explains. “There are a lot of people stuck at home, who are terrified to go downtown and terrified to go outside because other people are not willing to show them the common courtesy and respect of putting on a face mask. I think it has to do with safety, and with respect. We are such a philanthropic and giving community, but when it comes to this one particular issue, for some reason which I will never understand, it’s polarizing.”
A survey initiated by Saratoga-based tourism agencies conducted in June in which just over 3,200 participated, listed “masks worn by employees” as the top safety precautions businesses and their employees can take that will motivate respondents to visit their businesses. The results of the survey, publicly released July 8, also listed “a lack of trust in venues enforcing proper safety guidelines” as the main reason nearly 1,000 of the respondents are deterred from visiting Saratoga County.
The survey partnered Mind Genomics the Saratoga County Chamber, Discover Saratoga, the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership and other agencies and was designed to glean information about what will motivate respondents to visit Saratoga County in the next six months.
Absent stronger language from the state regarding mandatory mask-wearing of customers, Stewart’s Shops is test-marketing different ideas.
“We’re rolling out a test right now offering complimentary masks in one of our district of 17 shops in Valatie, and we’re trying to learn: are people going to respond? will they take the mask? how will they respond if a partner offers them a mask?” Komoroske says. “if that test goes well, we’ll roll that out company-wide.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Playable pinball machines celebrating Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle, paying tribute to the Rolling Stones, Kiss, Guns N’ Roses and others, and the acoustic guitar upon which The Who’s Pete Townshend composed “Pinball Wizard” will go on exhibit at Universal Preservation Hall this month.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibit “Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball” opens Sunday, July 26 for a two-month run at UPH, located at 25 Washington St. in Saratoga Springs.
The interactive exhibit showcases rock-themed, playable pinball machines and combines them with merchandise and artifacts to explore the artistic portrayal of artists and bands.
UPH, a partner in the Proctors Collaborative, will sell tickets for 90-minute blocks throughout the run. Tickets will be available for admittance at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day and hours will be extended to include 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. admittance on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The event concludes on Saturday, Sept. 26.
Part of the Machine: Rock & Pinball is presented at UPH by Adirondack Trust Company.
Pinball and rock became inextricably linked, with the Who and the group’s opus ’Tommy,’ which highlighted the skills of the rock opera’s lead character. Pinball was banned until the mid-1970s in most of America’s big cities because it was considered a form of gambling.
On display, along with the classic “Wizard” and “Tommy” pinball machines, is Pete Townshend’s acoustic guitar used to compose “Pinball Wizard” and several other Who songs from the album ‘Tommy.’
Making its debut as part of the exhibit is Alice Cooper’s newest pinball machine – Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle. The classic horror adventure game is narrated by Alice himself and features a number of songs spanning Cooper’s career and a working guillotine set piece. An electric chair stage prop that Cooper used in his 1971 tour across North America and Europe is on display in the exhibit.
Fans can also view pioneering pinball machines of their favorite musicians such as Captain Fantastic (1976), based on the album by Elton John and his character in Tommy, and Beat Time (1967), one of the oldest rock and roll tables, which capitalizes on Beatlemania, featuring several mop-topped musicians and a drumhead emblazoned with “The Bootles.”
Other rare and sought-after playable machines in the exhibit pay tribute to the Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton, Guns N’ Roses, Elvis, Metallica, KISS and AC/DC. From Peter Criss of KISS’ drum set to Dolly Parton’s dress that inspired the backglass for the DollyParton pinball machine, fans will find other artifacts on display as they learn more about the popular pinball and rock subculture.
Hosting the exhibition at UPH has been in the works more than a year as the Saratoga venue sought to develop programming that complimented - rather than competed - with Saratoga’s live entertainment scene in the summer.
“It wasn’t clear when COVID-19 came along that we could hold the event but now that museums are reopening in the state we are proceeding with our plans,” said Teddy Foster, director at UPH.
UPH will follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State safety guidelines in establishing safety protocol for exhibit visitors. Each visitor, staff person and volunteer will be required to bring and wear a face mask and to wear provided gloves while playing the pinball machines. All individuals will also be required to maintain proper social distancing.
UPH staff will also take and record each individual’s temperature and procure proper tracing information, and sanitize all surfaces including handrails, light switches, elevators, exhibit pieces, restrooms and common surfaces before new groups are admitted. Capacity will be initially limited to 20 guests per time slot and will be re-evaluated regularly.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and are available now at universalpreservationhall.org.