Displaying items by tag: saratoga springs
Saratoga Springs — On Black Friday, Nov. 27, a select group of over a dozen stores in downtown Saratoga will be offering a variety of discounts on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, with many store sales extending throughout the holidays. Each business is offering their own custom sale. Most deals are spread out all day long to encourage a safe shopping experience with CDC safety protocol measures a priority.
Local merchants in downtown Saratoga Springs are looking forward to welcoming Black Friday shoppers into their stores with warmth and appreciation for their support of local business! “Black Friday Participant” window signs will differentiate the storefronts of participating Black Friday Saratoga businesses. Participants include The Saratoga Day Spa, Crafters Gallery, Tailgate and Party Shop, The Dark Horse Mercantile, Impressions of Saratoga, Celtic Treasures, Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company, Saratoga Guitar, Saratoga Olive Oil Co., Spa City Organics, iRun LOCAL, Spoken Boutique, Saratoga Botanicals, and Yellow Boutique. Sponsors include Stewart’s Shops, the Adirondack Trust Company, Saratoga’s Star Radio and Saratoga’s Best Magazine.
“This year shopping local and supporting our local economy is more important than ever,” said Fran Dingeman, Owner of Network Saratoga and organizer of the Black Friday Saratoga promotion for the past eight years.
Businesses are adapting to 2020 and responding to new consumer needs. Many are offering online, curbside pick up and delivery options within certain areas. A complete list of the participating businesses and their discount offerings is listed on blackfridaysaratoga.com. Businesses who have chosen to continue their sales after the Thanksgiving weekend will also have those details listed. If you’d like more information about Black Friday Saratoga, go to www.facebook.com/blackfridaysaratoga
Black Friday Saratoga is organized by Network Saratoga. For more information visit www.networksaratoga.com
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Help from above may soon come to Saratoga Springs.
The City Council this week gave the thumbs-up to a Letter of Intent for a local company pursuing a National Science Foundation grant. The grant would allow Big Rock Technologies to develop a smart-done medical supply innovation that If successful would provide the Spa City a cutting-edge component for public safety.
“Not only does it make police and fire operations more efficient, it brings incredible (drone) technology you can use right now, in the middle of a pandemic,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who brought the proposal to the council table this week.
“What’s amazing about it is that it was developed for a pandemic and public health crisis but say there’s a fire - you send the drone out first to tell you where the fire started before the firefighters get there,” Commissioner Dalton said.
“You could have a drone dropping off tests or medicine to neighborhoods and not risk infection. You could send the drone out to a car accident and it puts out an immediate traffic alert, it can help for mass gatherings with crowd control, in sort of a nonviolent de-escalation method. To me it’s exciting and the future of public safety,” said Commissioner Dalton.
Area resident Adam Luaces spoke to the council regarding the company involved - Big Rock Mountain – and of Big Rock Technologies’ smart-drone medical supply chain innovations. The unmanned aerial vehicles are used to carry payloads, perform deliveries, and operate cameras to assess and execute specific, highly focused operational tasks.
“We would like to make Saratoga Springs our national testbed. We would like to build and manufacture the product at the end of the grant duration here in Saratoga County,” Luaces said, regarding the potential regional benefits should the company be successful in securing the National Science Foundation grant.
“The grant is a three-phase grant that will spread over three years and we would have this in 2022 in the area,” Luaces said. “The first part would bring $1.5 million into the area if all three phases were done here in the county, and that would allow us to open up to bigger grant programs like Smart City initiatives, and Smart NY tax abatement programs.”
The private-public collaboration could also potentially bring tech jobs to the city. The grant is a “pure grant,” meaning there is no financial match on the city’s end that is required.
Police are making use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones, during the COVID-19 crisis, according to Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing. The organization recently published a 128-page report on the use of drones by public safety agencies.
Specific examples of this type of drone operation domestically during the pandemic include the Elizabeth New Jersey Police Department’s use to disperse crowds and enforce social distancing rules and the Daytona Beach Florida Police Department’s use of two drones equipped with loudspeakers to communicate with the public without getting too close, according to the PERF report. Additionally, In the United Kingdom and across Europe, police are using drones to monitor people’s movements and enforce lockdown orders, and in Israel, police are using drones to confirm that those who tested positive for COVID-19 are self-isolating.
More than 1,500 state and local police, sheriff, fire, and emergency services agencies in the U.S. are believed to have acquired drones, according to a March 2020 report published at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. The specific breakdown by Public Safety Agency mission points to 70% of those used by law enforcement, 20 % by fire and rescue, and 10% by emergency management. And there are more - the tally consists only of publicly disclosed public safety agencies that are reported to own at least one drone and does not include agencies with undisclosed drone programs or federal agencies.
COUNCIL EXTENDS OUTDOOR DINING THROUGH NEW YEAR’S EVE
The City Council adopted a resolution to extend an ordinance through the calendar year that allows eating and drinking establishments to operate outdoor seating areas on public property.
The measure, first enacted in June, targets specific public property areas and requires a permit. The council reported “the permit procedure continues to have a positive impact on our city’s local economy.” The ordinance was extended to midnight Dec. 31, 2020.
BUDGET 2021 DEADLINE IS NOV. 30
The city’s proposed annual budget for 2021 seeks to adjust to a near $7 million shortfall, due to what councilmembers referred to as a “COVID economy.” The 2021 proposal stands at just under $41.9 million, compared to the $48.7 million budget adopted late last year, for 2020. On the table: a 6% increase in property tax rates – which would increase the property tax payment on a home assessed at $200K by $6 per month, or $72 per year – as well as potential layoffs and budget cuts across all departments.
The council has until Nov. 30 to make changes to the Comprehensive Budget proposal, or the one that was proposed on Oct. 6 will be adopted. That proposal may be viewed in its entirety on the city’s website at: saratoga-springs.org. As of Nov. 18, a city meeting has not been scheduled to take place prior to month’s end.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the swift shearing of a green ceremonial ribbon, the long awaited City Center parking facility – and the 600-plus parking spaces it brings to downtown Saratoga Springs – was unveiled this week and announced itself open for business.
Through the end of this calendar year, the first four hours of parking is free of charge. Parking rates for 2021 will be free for the first hour of parking, and $1 per hour after that first free hour, with a $15 cap charge in the 12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. period.
The $16 million multi-floor structure features secure covered parking for over 620 vehicles, four electric car charging stations, two green spaces, a pair of elevators and an open, flat, roof top area that can be used for parking and for convention related events.
A glass-enclosed pedestrian walkway extends over Maple Avenue, connecting the parking structure with the City Center complex.
The structure was unveiled Nov. 10 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by regional business and economic leaders and city officials. Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly city councilmember Anthony “Skip” Scirocco addressed the crowd.
“It is so exciting to bring this needed project to fruition, and to be part of the City Center’s continued growth, but the credit for this project also belongs to many current and former city council members, City Center Authority members, City Center employees, and members of the business community,” said Ryan McMahon, executive director of the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The City Center, located at the north end of Broadway, opened in 1984 and has served as host to corporations, New York State Associations, trade groups and northeast regional organizations, gate shows, fundraising galas and social events. The conference complex offers a total of 58,000 square feet of conference space when partnered with the adjoining 242 room Saratoga Hilton Hotel.
The development of an adjoining parking structure has been debated, often vehemently, for more than a decade and the project has undergone a multitude of suggested variations.
Community concerns targeted the facility’s size, its design, and its location atop prime city-owned land. Conversely, a large contingent of business owners have long advocated for its creation, reasoning that the additional parking spaces would increase the economic vitality for downtown retail shops and restaurant. And City Center officials have discussed the need of easy parking for potential clients to compete in a marketplace with other regional centers vying for convention business.
“You always want to improve your game,” Tom Roohan, chairman of the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority, told reporters at Tuesday’s ceremony. “In December 2013 we started this process, and I think we ended up with a great project with more than 600 parking spots, a well-lit, safe and secure parking facility that will help encourage companies to come into town.” During evening hours, a security guard will be on premise to offer an added layer of safety. A limited number of yearly parking passes are available for purchase from the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The structure, which stands one block east of Broadway, was developed atop a surface lot that saw the elimination of 188 previously free parking spaces. For the time being, parking continues to be free of charge in most of the other existing public parking areas downtown, as well as on city streets.
Changing from our current Commission form of government to the proposed City Manager + Wards system would be an undesirable change for Saratoga Springs at any time. To do that now in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis is folly and even dangerous. The commission form has helped Saratoga Springs be the most successful city in upstate New York. It allows all city voters to choose city residents every two years who will both make policy and also act as department heads delivering services. Elected officials are held directly accountable by the electorate for services provided to the city.
In addition, because they run departments, council members are highly knowledgeable about the workings of the city when they make policy decisions. Since departments have many intersecting needs and interests and a majority is necessary to pass laws and the city budget, excellent communication and cooperation are major features of this form of government.
In contrast the charter proposal offers a plan that gives the authority to run the city to an unelected city manager who doesn’t even have to live in the city. The city will be divided into wards and Saratogians will only be able to vote for the mayor and one of the six other council members, greatly reducing citizens’ say in their government. The proposal also has a weak mayor who has few responsibilities and cannot even give any employee direction.
Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system.
The responsibilities of the mayor and four commissioners are clearly laid out in the current charter and easily understood: Mayor and Departments of Accounts, Public Safety, Finance, and Public Works. When someone has an issue or opportunity, they simply contact the appropriate commissioner. In short, no one has any idea about the potential new City Manager organization, how it will be structured, nor what it will cost.
Only four positions are mentioned in the proposed charter: the city manager, attorney, clerk, and assessor. The charter change financial analysis claims that one City Manager can replace four commissioners and five deputies, about 18,000 hours of work yearly.
But Ron Kim, co-chair of the charter change effort, thought differently when he was Commissioner of Public Safety and asked the city council for two deputies to handle all the work in his department, blowing up their current claim that this level of management can be axed.
Danger: The new city government won’t be revealed until after we have voted. The charter grants both a transition task force and then the City Manager the power to “establish, modify, or restructure City departments, offices, or agencies…”
Net: All decisions and the real costs will be made by an unelected group of people and won’t be known until after we vote.
Q. A question of money.
The City Manager + Wards System will be much more expensive resulting in higher taxes. Even the change proponents admit that a new city manager brought in from out-of-town would cost Saratogians $262,000 yearly.
Then they increased the Mayor’s salary 448% to $65,000 plus benefits for a significantly easier job that excludes all administrative responsibilities. Compare this to the $19,000 average salary of a Mayor in New York State in cities run by a City Manager. (Source: Jeff Altamari). Even proponent ‘It’s Time Saratoga’ admits that the Mayor will receive this $65,000 for a part time job; saying the Mayor could concurrently hold another job. That doesn’t show much respect for taxpayers.
But wait, it gets worse. The pro-charter group has not disclosed to the public the real cost of a City Manager + Wards government. Their so-called financials leave out $760,000 of yearly costs including replacing the Deputy Commissioners, our city’s key managers which they arbitrarily eliminated without even interviewing; an Assistant City Manager; and an Internal Audit which is required in the charter but was “mistakenly” left out of their costs.
Remember that the charter is only a skeleton concept with 4 employees which will be completed by an unknown and unelected Task Force, which is one of two transition committees which would be authorized to hire staff including lawyers.
Transition costs are not even estimated by the change proponents. But any incremental transition costs during this pandemic will require firing city employees or increasing taxes. As both the Mayor and Commissioner of Finance said Tuesday night: The city has no money for charter expenses.The people proposing this change owe it to the public to disclose the real costs of this charter.
Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government.
Currently, there is a high level of transparency about what our elected officials are (and are not) accomplishing. Since our government services are delivered by 5 departments including the Mayor and 4 Commissioners, it’s simple and efficient to contact the appropriate city official to address our problems. And every one of these elected officials has a report card every two years when voters can retain or fire them.
The City Manager + Wards charter is undemocratic, unresponsive, and not transparent. The City Manager who would run Saratoga Springs is appointed so he (we use the male pronoun since 83% of the City Managers are men) cannot be voted out if citizens are unhappy with how the city is being run.
We would only be able to vote for 2 of the 7 elected officials making decisions about providing services and raising taxes. Today, we have influence over every elected official because we vote whether or not to retain all of them every two years. The Wards system eliminates our leverage to impact our city government.
The proposed charter creates a disastrous bottleneck which will keep residents from getting their problems addressed. Residents contact their Ward politician who can only contact the City Manager who, when he has time, passes the request on to the right department. The Ward politicians and even the Mayor are expressly forbidden to work with any city employee except the City Manager, thereby delaying residents receiving city services and answers to their questions. The City Manager + Wards system is less transparent, less effective, less efficient, and less democratic.
For more information, go to: saratogaworks.org.
The present form of government in Saratoga Springs is comprised of five departments, each headed by a separate elected official who performs both administrative and legislative functions. This system is inherently inefficient and expensive, leading to both gaps in and duplication of services. A survey of 100 City professional staff in 2016 reported that they spend 30% of their time navigating these five “silos” of city government. Clearly, our city has outgrown this system. The proposed new Charter consolidates all administrative units under a professional manager. The manager would be hired by and be accountable to the City Council, comprised of six neighborhood-based elected City Councilmembers (reflecting the Charter’s proposed six wards) and presided over by a city-wide elected Mayor. This Reform would bring efficiency to the administration, and accountability through representation and separation of legislative powers from administrative responsibilities. The proposal on the ballot was initiated by dozens of volunteers and more than 1,500 citizens who petitioned for this opportunity to vote.
Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system.
City administrative offices, now divided among five separately elected Commissioners and the Mayor, would be managed as one administration—much like every other city, town and village in NYS--led by an experienced, professional manager. One team not five means less bickering and finger pointing. Clarity will benefit citizens and businesses who need answers from the city. The present Commissioners and their political deputies would be eliminated. But, the remaining top civil service professionals would report to the City Manager. The City Council, chaired by the Mayor, would set the budget, adopt policies, pass ordinances and oversee the administration through a short-term employment agreement with the City Manager. Members of the Council, elected from the six neighborhood-based Wards, would be the “ombudsperson” for their constituents. This would allow the Council to set priorities that reflect the needs of the people, not the prerogatives of each Department’s political leadership. The Mayor, elected citywide for a four year term, would be expected to provide policy leadership, oversight of the City Manager, and represent the city in intergovernmental relations.
Q. A question of money.
Initial savings would be at least $100,000. This figure is derived by eliminating the current Commissioners and their political deputies, salary plus health and pension costs: $760,000. Positions required in the New Charter would add to $440,928, including the City Manager and Mayor (salary plus benefits), and six Councilmembers (salary with no benefits). Other positions included in this calculation are an Assistant City Manager and the cost of an Internal Auditor. Competitive compensation for these positions would bring the total net savings to about $100,000. No other positions are required to be added or eliminated in the proposed Charter. Any additions or reductions of staff would be made only by the elected City Council seated in 2022.
Long term, consolidation of administrative units under the City Manager will reduce the 30% inefficiency which the professional staff reported to the 2016-17 Charter Commission.
The new Charter also eliminates the present lifetime free healthcare benefit (free premium, no co-pays) for elected officials who serve 10 years or more, which can cost taxpayers $500,000 or more for each such official over time.
Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government.
Voters in the six neighborhood wards will elect the members of the City Council to two-year terms. Each councilmember would be the neighborhood’s “ombudsperson” for all functions of city government—in other words, “one-stop shopping” for people seeking answers from city hall. Presently, citizens and businesses are punted from office to office for simple permits. Public Safety and Public Works leaders have even disputed who is responsible to clear dead animals from the roadways.
Each new City Councilmember will represent about 3,000 3,000 voters. The wards would be drawn up by a bi-partisan commission after every decennial census. If the upcoming 2020 census report is too late for the start of the NYS Election calendar, a backup ward map is included in the proposed Charter that would be used only for the 2021 election.
Today, a candidate for city council (Commissioner of Accounts, Finance, Public Safety, Public Works, Mayor) must run city-wide campaigning directly to more than 18,000 voters—an expensive proposition. The new Charter enables city government to tap into more of our community’s talent and brain power because running in just one of the six districts will be much less expensive than running city-wide.
No longer will Commissioners work almost full time and leave aside their day-jobs. The new Council will be citizen-legislators, bringing everyday experience and perspective to our city government.
TERM LIMITS: All elected positions will be term-limited to 12 years.
For more information, go to: commonsensesaratoga.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The newly restored Saratoga Music Hall opened to the public last Tuesday when it hosted a city council meeting that featured the first public hearing of the proposed 2021 budget.
The proposed annual budget seeks to adjust to a near $7 million shortfall, due to what councilmembers referred to as “this COVID economy.” The 2021 proposal stands at just under $41.9 million, compared to the $48.7 million budget adopted late last year, for 2020. On the table: a 6% increase in property tax rates – which would increase the property tax payment on a home assessed at $200K by $6 per month, or $72 per year – as well as potential layoffs and budget cuts across all departments.
“These are very trying times,” Mayor Meg Kelly said during the meeting. “It’s $7 million short. We all have to take our hits (but) I think together we can all pull this off.”
This week’s public commentary largely focused on the potential Recreation Department budget – a topic amplified as a result of an email apparently sent from the recreation department, and circulated among thousands of residents during the previous weekend that pleaded with residents to attend City Council meetings and budget workshops to express concerns.
“Recreation in Saratoga Springs is at stake and we NEED YOUR HELP” read the email, “Ask our City to NOT DEFUND recreation.” Many did. With public seating limited to less than three dozen participants at one time due to COVID protocols, speakers briefly addressed the council regarding potential cuts to recreation programs then exited the building, allowing others who waited in line outside to enter and speak. The public hearing segment lasted approximately one hour. Members of the council warned of the danger of isolating one particular department and stressed the importance of looking at the budget as a whole.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation about the budget and about recreation in particular,” said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who first presented the proposed 2021 Comprehensive Budget to the City Council earlier this month. “In this COVID economy the (emailed) communication lacked context and it lacked details and it lacked a lot of what we’re doing right now at the City Council… it was all over social media, and it was pure anger, rage, and panic, and that is unfortunate.”
“We all, in our own way, have a personal connection to the Rec Department and the tremendous effect it has on children’s mental health,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who explained she has four children aged between 4 and 10, and realizes the impact of the recreation in the city. “I don’t want to set the tone here that we’re only out for who we represent. When you put out just one tiny piece of what the budget is going to look like and you play to people’s emotions to make it seem as if we don’t care about our kids and that that’s the first thing that’s going to go - it really sets a whole different tone for the budget season that I find regretful. The whole thing is we’re working together to make sure we have the best results for everyone in the city,” she said. “What I encourage people to do is to go to the individual workshops to understand what it means to the entire city.”
Budgeted expenses for the city’s Recreation Department have been reduced under the proposed budget, but not eliminated. There is currently $1.2 million in the budget, maintaining the costs of the Director of Recreation, one staff person, and building and grounds maintenance and utilities. “This means recreations programs cannot incur any additional costs to the city. It does not mean that Recreation is shutting down,” Madigan said.
Madigan has proposed increasing property tax rates by 6% and to minimize the number of required layoffs, the budget contains a 10% reduction in all city employee salary lines. “With a 10% pay cut we can limit the layoffs, but they are still significant: 25% reduction in Public Works labor lines and 15% in Public Safety - police and fire.” Basically, she said, a lower pay cut requires more layoffs, fewer layoffs will require a larger pay cut.
“We all appreciate recreation and need recreation, but we all have to get together as a council and see what we can do,” Mayor Kelly said. “Essential services are always first.”
“Right now, we do not have those essential services figured out. That has to be the first priority,” Commissioner Dalton said. “Water, sewer, roads, fire, EMS and police. Unless we can assure those essential services are intact – we have nothing. We can’t operate. You won’t be able to drive to the ice rink. We won’t be able to respond to a medical emergency. So that has to be our first priority as a city. Once we get those covered, then we can look at anything else.”
The Saratoga Springs Recreation Commission is a 7-member board of community volunteers appointed by the mayor to oversee the Recreation Department. Mayor Kelly pointed to Recreation Department Administrative Director John Hirliman. “We have to see if we can do this as budget-neutral and I have John Hirliman, who has always worked magic in this department, and as a council we all believe in his abilities,” she said. “I have great faith in my team to pull some programs together.”
“We all understand the tremendous financial crisis we face due to the pandemic. I’m going to work my tail off to make sure we have recreation programming,” Hirliman said.
Separate budget hearings are tentatively scheduled to take place this week involving the Public Safety Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Mayor/ Recreation departments. Visit the city’s website to confirm times and dates of those meetings, at: saratoga-springs.org.
A second public hearing of the budget will take place in November. Revisions of the potential budget may be made through the end of November, at which point the 2021 Comprehensive Budget will be adopted.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Chow Bella, an indoor, climate controlled canine social club, has opened its doors for business. The dog park is located at 50 West Ave.
The 7,500 square-foot space consists of a 3,000 square-foot fenced in dog park that has tunnels, bridges and toys scattered throughout. The front of the store features a 2,200 square-foot retail space that sells premium dog food brands, beds, leashes & collars and even costumes for dogs- just in time for Halloween. There is also a small café & seating area where owners can unwind and watch their furry friends have fun with other well-behaved dogs.
In addition to the dog park and retail space, Chow Bella features a salon style grooming space with two on-staff groomers, and several self-wash stations. Hours are 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Mon-Fri., 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information go to: www.chowbella.store.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — An expansion at the Excelsior Park complex is being reviewed by the city Planning Board.
The area of review is off Excelsior Avenue, located north of the VFW Post 420 in a wooded area bordered by Spring Run Trail. Excelsior Park Phase 1 has been constructed and Phase 2 has previously been approved and is under construction.
The Excelsior Park Project currently under review proposes a mixed-use development that includes 163 residential units, 36,200 square feet of commercial space, a banquet facility, spa, swimming pool, and a 60-room hotel with a 200-seat restaurant.
The residential component includes a variety of single and multi-bedroom apartments, townhouses and condominiums. The original application for the project was made in November 2017 and first presented to the Planning Board in early 2018.
Plans call for the construction of three new structures – the largest of which will stand 50 feet high and 250 feet wide. The Excelsior Park expansion is anticipated to occur over several phases and cover nearly 35 acres with a start date of June 2021.
The group presenting the proposal is represented by The Chazen Companies - a multi-disciplinary firm providing clients in both the private and public sectors with a everything from land surveying, planning, and landscape architecture to construction services.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Buckle your seat belts, the battle lines have been drawn.
In November, 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. The last time a citizen-led City Charter referendum proposed change, which took place in 2017, a tense nine-day post-election period was required to await the return of absentee ballots that would decide the winner. In the end, nearly 9,000 residents voted in all and the referendum to replace the long-standing commission form of governing was defeated by a total of 10 votes.
That razor-thin margin in 2017 was a continuation of an ever-tightening vote differential in community-led proposals for change: a 2006 referendum proposing a change to a strong-mayor form of government was voted down by roughly a 62-38 percent difference, and a 2012 proposal was defeated 58-42 percent.
This time around, the proposed charter reform calls for the creation of a six-person council whose members would be elected from six newly created neighborhood “wards,” a mayor elected by voters city-wide, and the hiring by the council of a city manager.
Last week, a pro-charter change citizens campaign committee called Common Sense Saratoga, staged their kick-off campaign at High Rock Park.
“Why am I here today? When I was in office, politics was the primary thing, unfortunately,” said Ron Kim, former city Public Safety Commissioner and currently a co-chair of Common Sense Saratoga. “Each of the commissioners protected their own turf. That’s not the way I wanted to operate, but that’s the way things were. Everyday citizens would meet roadblocks for the simple things,” Kim said. “It was open to those who were connected, who had their own attorneys, who had a voice through the political end. That’s cronyism. That’s not representative government.”
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.
Kim said the change in the form of governing would provide more accountability, representation and transparency. “City wide commissioners who manage bureaucracies don’t, as a first priority, represent people. They represent the department. I know. I was there.”
Saratoga Works - a group opposing the charter change and in favor of maintaining the status quo, launched their first gathering two weeks ago.
Led by co-chairs Connie Woytowich and Jane Weihe, the Saratoga Works group argue a change in Saratoga Springs’ current form of government would be risky during a time of a pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, deliver an “expensive version of charter change” and would politicize neighborhoods by dividing them into wards.
Kim and the Common Sense Saratoga group scoffed at criticisms that a ward-based system would pit neighborhoods in competition with one another as being “cynical” and argued that the ward system similarly aligns with most representative governments such as Congress and Senate representation.
Addressing costs, he said swapping the salary and benefit package costs of the five councilmembers and their five deputies in the current form in favor of a city manager, a mayor, and six ward council members in the proposed reform would provide taxpayer savings.
Saratoga Works argues that even as some city deputy or assistant salary costs would be saved, new workers would still need to be hired to conduct the work the current city employees are doing, increasing financial ramifications.
The designated wards of the proposed referendum are as follows: “Inner East Side” Ward 1 - Election Districts 4, 8, 9 and 12; “North Side” Ward 2 - Districts 1,2,3, 24 and 25; “Outer East Side” Ward 3 - Districts 5, 15, 17 and 22; “South Side” Ward 4 - Districts 10, 13, 14 and 23; “South West Side” Ward 5 - Districts 16, 18, 20 and 21; “West Side” Ward 6 - Districts 6, 7, 11 and 19. Each ward counts approximately 2,900 to 3,400 currently registered voters.
A total of 1,565 registered voters signed the petition to put the proposal on the ballot. If approved by voters in November, the measure is anticipated 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 that 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.
For more information about the pro-charter change referendum, go to: commonsensesaratoga.org. For more information about the group opposed to change of the city’s current form of government, go to: saratogaworks.org.
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 — Some businesses shut their doors during the 2020 pandemic, but Maura Pulver, owner of Five Points Market & Deli, used the restrictions as an opportunity.
Pulver created Simply Food by Maura to continue her tradition of great breakfast sandwiches and homemade Take 5 Dinners. She also hopes to expand her business focus to private catering.
“Life comes with many opportunities. Sometimes I have even been fortunate enough to latch onto them, and while change can always be scary, it also brings new and exciting memories that we are not yet aware of. I call this a chance to Get to the Point,” Pulver wrote on Facebook. “I will only be down the street. I will still be making breakfast sandwiches…with some mad crazy additions. I will be adding additional Take [five] dinners during the week. And I will be catering. I will take some wonderful Five Point traditions with me and create some new and fantastic ones.”
Pulver plans to sell her breakfast sandwiches out of a commercial kitchen at the Saratoga Springs Senior Citizen Center. In addition to breakfast, she will begin a catering business and continue a popular take-out option she offered at Five Points, called Take Five Dinners.
So far, Pulver has released menu details for Simply Food. Some items include: the Points Classic made up of two eggs, american cheese, choice of sausage, bacon or ham on toasted hard roll and the Blueberry Bomb made of two eggs, sausage, cheddar with a maple syrup drizzle on grilled blueberry bread.
The doors to Five Points officially closed Aug. 31 after Pulver had owned it for eight-and-a-half years. Just like other downtown businesses, Pulver had reduced her staff, menu and hours of operation due to the pandemic. She then used her extra time to create her new catering business.
On her website, Pulver states that loyalty points from a Five Points account can carry-over to Simply Food by Maura. Free lunches on Saturday and Sunday will also continue at the new location.
“The support of the community has been so very generous, we look forward sharing this small gesture with our neighbors as long as there is a need to do so,” Pulver wrote on her website.
She added: “In a year of pandemic pivoting, I have arrived at a new point in my journey. Over these challenging months I have been fortunate to continue doing what I love…simply feeding my community. Whether our simple free lunches, deliciously simple Take Five Dinners and take out, or our creatively simple catered covid celebrations. I have been in my element.”
Simply Food by Maura will be located at 5 Williams Street and her website can be reached at simplyfoodbymaura.com.