City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Permanent Homeless Shelter: Problem Solved, Problems Arise
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Plans are underway to site a permanent 24/7 year-round county shelter at the soon-to-be-vacated Senior Center on Williams Street.
City Mayor Ron Kim originally announced the comprehensive initiative to address the city’s homelessness last October, and the City Council unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the project.
The location is the longtime home of the Saratoga Senior Center, and is a structure developed by the city on city-owned property in the 1970s. The timeline of the shelter’s opening is tentatively slated for late spring, and is dependent on the components of the existing Senior Center relocating to a new venue at the Saratoga Springs YMCA property at 290 West Ave.
The search for a permanent shelter site has been ongoing for nearly a decade. The Williams Street plan is something city officials and Saratoga County officials began discussing early in 2022. The current lease for the temporary Code Blue shelter on Adelphi Street runs through April 30 at a cost of $8,000 per month. The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved the short-term lease arrangement last July, during which board members also expressed a desire to seek a county location that could be used on a permanent basis following the expiration of the lease.
The city resolution approved in October calls for the development of “a state-mandated Code Blue Shelter, a navigation center, and a full-time low-threshold shelter on the property.”
The specific definition of a “low barrier shelter” and of a “navigation center” vary from state-to-state. Recent legislation in California details “navigation centers” as providing temporary room and board while case managers work to connect homeless individuals and families to income, public benefits, health services and permanent housing or other shelter.
Meanwhile, having a “low barrier” points to things such as eliminating curfews and not requiring background checks, sobriety or mandatory treatment.
It is not clear at this time whether any of these points would be put in effect in Saratoga Springs.
Some members of the nearby Saratoga Central Catholic School have expressed concern regarding the siting of a “low barrier” shelter in close proximity to children. The topic “caused an uproar” when it came up for discussion during a general meeting last week staged by the Saratoga Central Catholic Security Committee.
“As a committee, we have been talking about the homeless shelter on-and-off for a little while,” said committee member Kevin Zacharewicz. “We’re religious people, we’re Catholic people, so we’re not against the homeless shelter; we’re just against the location of the homeless shelter. We don’t feel that it should be basically touching the property, or be near our kids, our school,” he said.
The group met with Shelters of Saratoga Executive Director Duane J. Vaughn on Dec. 20, Zacharewicz said. “We talked about that it would be between basically 40 people on the average a night in the summertime, and 60 people an average a night in the wintertime. … We talked about if he does any background checks on his clients, the homeless. He kind of said no.
“We have to help these people out. We get that,” Zacharewicz said. “We understand all this, but again, the location is just not the right mix, and it caused an uproar, obviously, at the school meeting.” A meeting regarding the matter is scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30 in the school gymnasium.
City Mayor Ron Kim said this week that discussions with local school and church officials are ongoing and that the city is cognizant of mitigating any impact the center may have on them, and how that materializes is a matter to be decided with future conversations.
Dr. Giovanni Virgiglio, Superintendent of Schools, Diocese of Albany, shared his comments via a statement on Jan. 27. :
"We always place priority on the safety and well-being of our students and the entire school community and that is very much the case in this situation," Virgiglio said. "At the same time, care and concern for the most vulnerable among us is a cornerstone of what we believe and teach as a Church. We need to get a true understanding of the city’s plan before drawing any conclusions and determining the best course of action. To that end, the principal, members of the school board, and I will meet with Mayor Ron Kim so we can learn more about the city’s proposed shelter. Following that meeting, we will share the information with our school families so we can make an informed decision about what our next steps will be."
“Code Blue” shelter and shelter services are provided to the homeless community whenever inclement winter weather temperatures are at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, inclusive of National Weather Service calculations for windchill. Motivated to action in the wake of the death of a city woman exposed to a winter’s elements on a December night in 2013, a temporary homeless emergency shelter was launched in Saratoga Springs that Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Parish Center. A series of temporary winter shelters have followed.
In addition to becoming a permanently sited 24/7 “Code Blue” shelter, the city had expressed some interest in also pursuing the possibility of adding about 40 affordable housing apartments in an adjacent space on the parcel that would assist residents in their transitioning process - a continuum of care with the ultimate goal of helping people move from homelessness to sustained housing on their own.
(Reporter Dylan McGlynn contributed to this report.)
Saratoga County Drug Overdoses on the Rise
BALLSTON SPA — A Public Health Advisory was issued Jan. 20 by the Saratoga County Department of Health reporting an increase in drug-related overdoses – 10 in all including one fatality – during a 7-day period between Jan. 13-18. Six of the 10 cases involved males and the overall ages ranged from 17 to 41.
The local advisory coincides with the New York State Department of Health’s County Opioid Quarterly Report for January 2023 - released this week, noting a statewide 14% increase in 2021 overdose deaths involving opioids, compared to 2020. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported a 30% increase in overdose deaths nationally.
The state report, published quarterly, provides information about county-level health impacts related to heroin and opioid use and enables local communities to better respond to the opioid crisis.
Findings comparing state totals for 2021 to 2020 data:
-14% increase in overdose deaths involving opioids, with 4,766 deaths in 2021.
-12.6% increase in outpatient Emergency Department visits due to opioid overdoses, with 10,430 visits in 2021.
-30.2% increase in outpatient Emergency Department visits due to opioid overdoses other than heroin, including illicitly produced opioids such as fentanyl, with 5,137 visits in 2021.
-11.8% increase in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) naloxone administration encounters, with 19,139 in 2021.
Fentanyl is involved in the majority of overdose deaths in New York State and is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, according to the state DOH.
Saratoga County says it has targeted responding to the opioid epidemic a priority. The County previously announced it will utilize Opioid Settlement Funds to expand efforts to mitigate the growing influence of drugs and addiction in local communities, through a variety of programs and investments.
“The County has multiple efforts underway to raise awareness of the dangers of substance abuse, to provide preventative and treatment measures to residents, and to provide law enforcement the tools and resources needed to combat the growing influence of drugs and alcohol in Saratoga County,” according to a statement released Jan. 21.
Last Sunday, the county DOH partnered with the Clifton Park and Halfmoon Emergency Corps to distribute free Naloxone Overdose Rescue Kits and provide Naloxone training in Clifton Park. Approximately 105 two-pack kits were distributed during the event. More than three dozen more kits have been requested since the event via the county’s website, according to a county spokesperson.
Naloxone – which works on opioids such as heroin, prescription pain medications and fentanyl - is a safe medication that can save someone’s life by reversing the effects of an opioid overdose. Anyone interested in obtaining a Narcan kit can fill out a request form at: saratogacountyny.gov/narcan/.
Saratoga County also notes the existence of New York State’s 911 “Good Samaritan Law,” which allows people to call 911 without fear of arrest if they are having a drug overdose that requires emergency medical care or if they witness someone overdosing.
Everyone — regardless of age — who seeks medical help for themselves or someone else during an overdose is protected by the 911 Good Samaritan Law. Specifically, that law protects: Possessing controlled substances up to and including A2 felony off¬enses (anything under 8 ounces); Possessing alcohol, where underage drinking is involved; Possessing marijuana (any quantity); Possessing drug paraphernalia; and Sharing drugs. The law does not protect: A1 felony possession of a controlled substance (8 ounces or more); Sale or intent to sell controlled substances; Open warrants for your arrest; and Violation of probation or parole.
The State also continues to advance 25 Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs) with over 81 sites statewide. SEPs address the needs of New Yorkers who use drugs and lead in the distribution of naloxone to New Yorkers vulnerable to overdose. The State’s 14 Drug User Health Hubs have been built upon the foundations of the SEPs. These centers focus on reducing overdose by providing easy access to buprenorphine, building safety plans with people who have experienced a non-fatal overdose and equipping participants with naloxone.
SCDOH and Saratoga County Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services have developed a Substance Use and Mental Health Resource Directory that individuals and families can use to find area recovery and support resources. The 35-page directory is available via the county website at: saratogacountyny.gov.
Local residents requesting more information or seeking answers to questions regarding help with opioids/substance abuse may send their inquiries to: opioids@saratogacountyny,gov.
First-Of-Its-Kind - Affordable Housing in N.Y.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council unanimously approved a resolution to seek $1 million in grant funding - via the Restore NY Communities Initiative Municipal Grant Program – that anticipates taking a currently vacant parcel at 53 Putnam St. and redeveloping it into a multi-story building with affordable/mixed-income housing units that will house low-income individuals and families.
At least 20 units in the anticipated 60-unit building are expected to be made available “for low-income individuals and families to own and occupy their own home,” according to the city.
“It’s a win for environmentalists, a win for developers, investors and a win for the city of Saratoga Springs,” city Mayor Ron Kim said during the council’s discussion of the matter on Jan. 17.
The project is located on a NYS Brownfield Environmental Remediation lot, sited opposite the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Dubbed as “Putnam Square,” the project anticipates development as a public/private partnership between Putnam Resources, and the city along with a variety of local non-profit organizations. The estimated overall project cost is just over $15 million. More than $3 million has already been invested by developers to acquire, manage and clean the site.
“If this works the way it is currently positioned, it will be the first of its kind in the state,” said Commissioner Dillon Moran, drawing a contrasting comparative with the typical home-by-home basis actions, which takes a while to develop, by organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
Mayor Kim said that “one-third or more” of the 60-unit building will be offered at HUD affordable prices at a percentage of the region’s determined area median income, or AMI. The AMI for all cities across the country fluctuates, and is defined each year by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
I Hear America Singing
• The City Council approved the appointment of Joseph Bruchac as Poet Laureate of the city of Saratoga Springs. Bruchac was born and raised in Saratoga Springs and has authored more than 120 books, along with numerous poems and short stories.
The appointment marks the first by the city of a Poet Laureate and carries the duties of serving as a representative of the Saratoga Springs in creating literary and artistic works in commemoration of the city, its history, and its people. The position, which carries through 2025, was unanimously approved by the Council and will be under the supervision and guidance of the Mayor’s Office, in consultation with the arts commission.
Saratoga New Year’s Fest Will Be Back for 2023/24
• Bob Millis, primary producer of the inaugural Saratoga New Year’s Fest staged Dec. 31-Jan. 1 told the Council that the event was an overall success and will return for its second year.
“We hit all of our markers. We attracted people from across the Northeast, we put them in hotels, we sent them to downtown venues and we generated sales tax,” Millis said. “It was such a great success we have committed to continuing the event into the future.”
School Resource Officer(s)
• The council approved an addendum to the agreement between the Saratoga Springs City School District and the city of Saratoga Springs that will - beginning on Jan. 30 - have the city assign an additional School Resource Officer to the District’s Elementary Schools.
“The school district had a Safety Survey Report that recommended the addition of two School Resource Officers – one to be provided by the Sheriff’s Department for the two elementary schools outside the city limits, and a recommendation that the city provide an SRO from the Saratoga Springs Police Department for the four elementary schools that are in city limits,” city Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino told the council Jan. 17. “That recommendation was adopted by the school board last week.” The measure was approved by the Saratoga Springs City School District Board of Education by a 5-4 margin.
The school district will pay $74,285 as reimbursement toward the cost of the Elementary SRO, prorated from the Elementary SRO’s start date through the end of the contract. The district currently employs two SROs, one at the high school and one at the middle school campuses.
The four district elementary schools within Saratoga Springs city limits are: Caroline Street Elementary School, Lake Avenue Elementary School, Division Street Elementary School, and Geyser Road Elementary School.
The elementary schools SRO will be on duty from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each school day, at or between the elementary schools. In all, the city has seven officers currently trained as SRO’s on staff, Montagnino said.
County Names Members of 2023 Standing Committees
BALLSTON SPA — Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Kusnierz on Jan. 17 announced his member appointments to the county’s 12 Standing Committees.
Saratoga Springs City Supervisor Tara Gaston was appointed to the Trails & Open Space Committee; City Supervisor Matt Veitch was appointed as member to a handful of committees including the Buildings & Grounds Committee of which he will serve as chair.
The committees are typically where the initial work is debated regarding topics later sent to the Board of Supervisors for their ultimate approval. The Law and Finance Committee specifically is the last Committee meeting scheduled prior to the Regular Meeting of the Board of Supervisors, and Items approved by the Law and Finance Committee constitute the agenda of the Board of Supervisors Regular Meetings.
Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Stage First Meeting of 2023
BALLSTON SPA — Citing a “significant increase in mortality in Saratoga County” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the county board of Supervisors on Jan. 14 amended a previously authorized contract agreement with NMS Labs from $75,000 to $110,000 to cover the increase in costs in the services the lab provides.
The 2022 agreement with National Medical Services directs NMS Labs to provide post-mortem toxicological services to the Saratoga County Corners.
The county Law and Finance Committee and the County Coroners recommended that the contract for 2022 services be amended to increase the authorized contract amount.
The Board of Supervisors this week additionally approved amending an agreement with Saratoga Hospital from $65,000 to $75,000 due to increasing numbers of cases handled by the County Coroners at Saratoga Hospital in 2022.
The county department of health updates its COVID-19 surveillance dashboard weekly. To date, since 2020, there have been 1,521 hospitalizations and 395 COVID-19 related deaths. The breakdown of fatalities by year: 44 in 2020, 223 in 2021, and 128 in 2022.
Liberty Saratoga Apartments Gets City Support for Development of 200-Apartment Workforce Housing Complex
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council last week announced its support for the development of a 200-plus apartment complex on the city’s south side geared to attracting local teachers, young professionals, nurses, hospitality industry workers and firefighters and police.
The complex’s one-bedroom apartments are anticipated to range from $995 to $1,200 a month, while maximum rents in two-bedroom units could range from $1,200 to $1,650. The current rental average in Saratoga Springs for a two-bedroom unit is $2,245.
Last year, Liberty Affordable Housing Inc., of Rome, N.Y., submitted its application to the city for a zoning map amendment in its effort to develop approximately 200 apartments in two, four-story structures on a portion of a wooded 30-acre lot on the corner of Jefferson Street and Crescent Avenue.
Last week, Saratoga Springs Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran announced that amendments to the city’s zoning and comprehensive plan had been granted by the Saratoga Springs City Council.
“The development of this project offers a significant boost to the number of apartments at a time which there are few options available. Healthcare and hospitality are core to the economy of Saratoga Springs, and the workforce should be able to live within the community that they work,” said Moran, in a statement.
The workforce housing community caps rents at a percentage of the region’s Average Median family Income, or AMI. The median family income in the Capital District region is $106,000. The project targets 60-80% of the AMI. To qualify to apply for an apartment at Liberty Saratoga the tenant/household verified income would range from just over $44,500 to nearly $85,000, and points to $900- $1,120 costs for a studio, $995-$1,200 for one-bedroom, and $1,200-$1,650 for two-bedroom apartments.
The property will be owned and managed by Liberty Affordable Housing Inc., and Liberty Saratoga Apartments are slated to be designed by local firm Phinney Design Group. The two four-story buildings will include conservation of almost 20 acres of land including 9 acres of wetlands that create a natural buffer to other residential neighbors.
The development is supported by NYS funding which requires compliance with green building programs such as EPA Energy Smart, NYSERDA’s New Construction Housing Program, NYS HCR Mandatory Green Building & Energy Efficiency Practices, and the 2020 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria.
Saratoga Springs Posts Vacancy Announcement Seeking City Attorney
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city of Saratoga Springs on Jan. 6 posted a job vacancy announcement stating that it is seeking a City Attorney.
“It’s for a new position,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim said, adding that longtime current city attorney Tony Izzo will be staying on.
“The volume of work is intense, and what is clear is we need additional assistance,” the mayor said.
Job Summary: The City Attorney position for Saratoga Springs is established by City Charter to serve as general legal advisor and provide direct advisory legal services and guidance to the Mayor and all City Council members along with various boards, committees, commissions, and departments as necessary. The City Attorney will have prime responsibility to monitor and enforce the laws and policies of Saratoga Springs before State, Federal, and administrative law bodies.
The posted salary is $95,000 to $120,000 dependent on experience, for an average workweek of 30 to 40 hours. Education and experience qualifications are required, and the deadline for the submission of resumes in Jan. 31.
Exams for the position of Police Chief, and exams for the position of Assistant Police chief will take place March 25.
As opposed to the city attorney posting - “Vacancy Announcement” - the chief and assistant chief positions are posted as “Current Openings – Exam Announcement.”
The Chief salary is posted as $135,856 in 2023 and $138,573 in 2024.
The Assistant Chief salary is posted as $129,737 in 2023, and $132,332 in 2024.
Chief qualifications include a minimum of 2 years continuous permanent experience as Assistant Police Chief, or 5 years as Police Lieutenant, or 6 years as Police Sergeant – in the city of Saratoga Springs Police Department. There are additional educational requirements.
Assistant Chief qualifications include 3 years as Police Lieutenant, or 6 years as Police Sergeant – in the city of Saratoga Springs Police Department, as well as educational requirements.
Completed applications including a $25 exam fee for either position must be received in the Civil Service Office by Feb. 15.
For more information about these and other jobs, visit the city website at: saratoga-springs.org
City Supervisor Tara Gaston Will Not Seek Re-election in November
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Tara Gaston, one of two supervisors representing the city of Saratoga Springs, announced this week she will not seek re-election this fall.
“This is a decision I made for several reasons,” Gaston posted on her social media channel this week. “I will complete this term as supervisor, but that will not end my service to our community – even if looks a little different.”
Gaston, who was elected to three consecutive two-year terms starting in 2018, is one of 23 elected representatives serving on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.
The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors will host their next monthly meeting at the county complex in Ballston Spa at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Saratoga Springs: Under Development Year-Round
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The construction of new developments and the demolition of aging structures, appeals made of current zoning requirements and applications that seek area variances are presented to the city’s Land Use Boards throughout the year.
Ultimately, the recommendations and decisions made by those boards, staffed by resident city volunteers, go a long way into shaping what Saratoga Springs will look like.
Those three Land Use Boards are:
• The Saratoga Springs Planning Board. A seven-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to seven-year staggered terms. Next meeting: 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 26.
• The Saratoga Springs Design Review Board. A seven-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to five-year staggered terms. Next meeting: 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 18.
• The Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). A quasi-judicial seven-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to seven-year staggered terms. Next meeting: 6:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 23.
Celebrated Film Director to Stage Book Release Event at Northshire in March
SARATOGA SPRINGS — John Sayles has directed more than 18 films – “Matewan,” and “Eight Men Out,” among them, written screenplays for iconic ‘80s horror movies “The Howling,” and “Alligator,” and directed a trio of Bruce Springsteen’s most famed music videos – for the songs “Born in the USA,” “Glory Days,” and “I’m on Fire.”
As an author, Sayles has written numerous novels and short stories since 1975.
“In a two-hour movie I don’t tell the audience here’s a character, okay, here’s another one, now see the world the way they see it. In a book you can do that,” Sayles explained, in an interview published by Creative Screenwriting in 2016.
Sayles will celebrate the release of his new book, “Jamie MacGillivray: A Renegade’s Journey,” with an appearance at Northshire Bookstore Saratoga in March.
“Jamie MacGillivray: A Renegade’s Journey,” will be published by Melville House (736 pages, $32) in late February. The story is set in 18th Century Scotland and America and begins in the heat of a vicious war. At the Battle of Culloden, in Scotland in 1746, Jamie MacGillivray narrowly escapes a roadside execution only to be recaptured and sentenced to indentured servitude in colonial America “for the term of his natural life.”
Sayles is slated to celebrate the book’s release at Northshire Bookstore on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, in late March.