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Patty LeRoy: 50 Years of Fresh Air
BALLSTON SPA – A lifetime of bringing joy to others, particularly those who do not have the simple pleasures we sometimes take for granted.
Patty LeRoy of Ballston Spa has been all about the giving; the selfless act of opening her heart, her house and inviting people to be part of her family, as a host family for The Fresh Air Fund for 50 years. She has been a tireless advocate during this time as well, recruiting countless other host families (she currently monitors about 75 as a Fund Representative in charge of the Clifton Park zone) in the region. And at 78 years young, she has absolutely no intention of slowing down. “I love what I am doing, why would I stop?” she said.
For all these reasons, all the lives she has touched and made better, and more, Patty was surprised at the annual meeting of the Fresh Air Fund earlier this month (February 4-7) with a surprise celebration at a banquet in her honor in front of 300 people at New York City’s Marriott Marquis Hotel, in which she was commemorated as the first volunteer to reach the 50-year milestone in The Fresh Air Fund’s long and storied history.
The Fresh Air Fund has been serving children since 1877. Each summer, it strives to provide thousands of New York City children with unforgettable experiences that will unlock their limitless potential. Guest children are placed starting at age 7 to 12, and often will stay with a family until age 18. “Most families get to enjoy that long term connection. And they are in your lives forever,” Patty noted.
The summer experiences they enjoy by being a part of Patty’s or another host family’s life for a week or two are made up of regular activities that most of us would regard as routine. Yet, they expose a child to a quality of life that can make all the difference.
Consider that many of these guest children come from gritty inner-city environments. Many have never ridden a bike; played barefoot in the grass; or sat around a campfire. But through the efforts of Patty and The Fresh Air Fund, these children are taken away from the sirens and people screaming – they actually hear crickets at night for the first time, and that is a priceless, horizon-broadening experience that can be nothing short of miraculous – it changes lives, pure and simple.
To be sure, there is an economic commitment in all this. Host families are volunteers and are not compensated. And yet, Patty has always regarded this as simple as “…adding a hot dog to the grill,” she said. “These children are not looking for anything more than what you might regularly do with your family. What’s more important is the size of your heart, not your wallet.”
A small, 100-word newspaper item started this all in motion. In 1966, Patty read in the Ballston Journal about the Ballston Spa’s Rotary Club’s plans to participate, for the 14th year, in what at the time was the “90th year of The New York Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund” that summer. Through that small article, a life’s labor of love was set in motion. With ripple effects onto countless lives, that continues to this day.
Her daughter Tricia, herself a long-time Fresh Air volunteer, said it best. “My mom is PASSIONATE in everything she does! I love her dearly and am inspired by her daily! She is my hero!” To commemorate her 50th anniversary, her family has set the goal of recruiting 50 new Fresh Air Fund families in the region.
Make that 49 – she’s my hero too.
To learn more about becoming a host family, contact Patty LeRoy at 518-885-9505. For more information about the Fresh Air Fund and its programs, visit www.FreshAir.org
A Brighter Day For Blue
Code Blue Partnership with United Way Announced
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Always nice to report progress - particularly when the community and its leadership come together to solve a problem. Three weeks ago (Issue dated January 29), we reported that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, in requiring local shelters to be in operation when the temperature reaches 32 degrees or below, issued an unfunded mandate, Executive Order 151.
The City of Saratoga Springs’ Code Blue Shelter had its “triggering” temperature at 20 degrees - a benchmark that has been used by many similar organizations throughout the state. The Code Blue Shelter, which is operated by Shelters of Saratoga at the Salvation Army on Woodlawn Avenue had not been resisting the State mandate, but was struggling to secure the funds it would need to operate for the many extra nights this would involve, as well as volunteers to work at the facility. Shelters of Saratoga’s (SOS) Executive Director Mike Finocchi had estimated that it would take an estimated $32,000 to make up the cost difference.
All this changed, and for the better, on Tuesday, February 16, when Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen announced the formation of a partnership between the City of Saratoga Springs and the United Way of the Greater Capital Region (UWGCR) to benefit Code Blue. A drive has been launched to raise the necessary $32,000, and UWGCR President and CEO Brian Hassett was on hand to present Code Blue for the first $8,000 on Tuesday.
“This is why we exist,” Hassett stated. “We have four platforms that we focus on and one is basic needs – food, shelter, safety. We’ve been working in the community for 90 years and when there is a need or a problem, we’re here. We are the friend you can call in the middle of the night.”
Mayor Yepsen, who was instrumental in establishing the city’s Code Blue facility just prior to taking office in 2014, stated that the eventual goal is to have a year-round operational emergency shelter. This phase and the campaign to raise the funds for the goal of having Code Blue open every winter evening when the temperature drops to 32 degrees, is a very important step towards that goal. Noting last weekend’s frigid temperatures, well below zero, the Mayor spoke to the ongoing need, “without Code Blue, people would have likely died on our streets,” she said.
“We are thankful to Mayor Yepsen and the United Way of the Greater Capital Region for stepping up and help make a difference,” Finocchi said, “it’s amazing how much the community gets involved.” He cited statistics showing what a difference Code Blue actually makes. “Last year, we had 14 people transition from Code Blue into our program at Shelters of Saratoga. None of these people have been back this winter,” he said.
Here’s the part where you can make a difference too. Anyone wishing to make a contribution to help Code Blue reach its goal may go to a special webpage set up by the United Way. Visit www.unitedtoconquer.org. All donations made through this page will go to Code Blue.
Also, if you are already contributing to the United Way through payroll deductions or other methods, Hassett told me that the United Way staff would be delighted to assist anyone who wants to designate that their contributions be earmarked for Code Blue. Call the UWGCR staff at 518-456-2200, or visit www.unitedwaygcr.org to do this.
And, of course, volunteers are always needed. Visit www.codebluesaratoga.org to sign up for daily shift schedules.
With the United Way contribution, and it’s fundraising support, a major step was taken towards a better life for many in need on the streets of our community. Like Code Blue itself, this is something every citizen should be proud of.
Shout Out to Saints’ Girls Basketball
Best Season in Dozen Years
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Spa Catholic Saints Girls basketball squad have a lot to be proud of this year. They have just concluded their best regular season since 2003, compiling a solid 8-5 record in the Northern Division of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), and 12-8 overall. They also made the sectional tournament again, facing a tough Berne-Knox team in the first round on Tuesday, February 16.
Though the Lady Saints came away on the short end of that contest, they and Coach Tom Coons can look back on a season of accomplishment. Seniors Chloe Ethier and Mariah Murray were honored before the Saints’ home game against Hadley-Luzerne on Monday, February 1, and they came away with a 44-25 victory.
The dual-threat of junior Emma VanDeCar (averaging 13 ppg) and senior Chloe Ethier (8.9 ppg/ 11 rebounds per game) proved to be a key element in the Saints’ improvement. Both were named to the WAC all-star basketball team, to go with their all-star berths in WAC boy’s golf. If that were not enough, both Emma and Chloe are number one in their class academically! Saints fans will have another season to enjoy from Emma, while Chloe is currently weighing multiple offers from colleges to play golf and basketball.
The Lady Saints have much to look forward to. In addition to Emma VanDeCarr’s senior season, look for continued improvement and solid contributions from guards Kristen Mahar (currently a junior) and sophomore Ani Crocker, as well as junior guard/forward Katie Case, which will set Spa Catholic up to be a force in the WAC for some time to come.
Toward A “Smart City”
Presentation Sets Roadmap For Saratoga Springs to Be High-Speed Broadband Leader
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A city that is doing well can reach for an even better quality of life for all it’s citizens, by investing in its infrastructure. Two weeks ago (Issue of February 5), we detailed the commitment that the City of Saratoga Springs was making to develop and promote solar technology for itself and its citizenry. In the same vein, a presentation made to the Saratoga Springs City Council by Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan on Tuesday, February 16 detailed a path where the city would become a leader in developing and providing high-speed broadband to all stakeholders in businesses, schools, government, hospitals and the public at large.
Commissioner Madigan announced the formation of a “Smart-City Commission,” that is composed of representatives of a diverse community that would benefit from access to broadband. The Commission’s mission statement detailed the broad goals they hope to accomplish. Stating that, “…Broadband and Internet access at globally competitive speeds are no longer optional luxuries, but have become essential resources for residents, businesses, service providers, and government,” the new Commission will work towards making Saratoga Springs become a model intelligent Community.
The concept of a “Smart City” is one of the core ideas of the Intelligent Communities Forum (IC). IC hosts an annual competition each year known as the “Intelligent Community of the Year Awards: Smart21 Communities of the Year”. As the members of the “Smart-City” Commission work through the application, the hope is for a specific, detailed pathway that accounts for the unique needs of our community will emerge, and further help strengthen and inform the “Smart City” Commission about its vision, mission, objectives, and our region’s strengths and challenges. Completing the application is thus a near term goal of this Commission.
This will entail a detailed assessment of broad indicators that provide communities with a framework for future planning and development, as they work to build prosperous local economies in the Broadband Economy, and are a cornerstone for attaining Smart City status. These will include:
- Broadband: Intelligent Communities express a strong vision of their broadband future, develop strategies to encourage deployment and adoption, and may construct infrastructure of their own.
- Knowledge Workforce: Intelligent Communities exhibit the determination and ability to develop a workforce qualified to perform knowledge work in every area of the economy.
- Innovation: Intelligent Communities pursue innovation through the Innovation Triangle or “Triple Helix” – relationships between business, government and institutions such as universities and hospitals, help keep the economic benefits of innovation local, and create an innovation ecosystem that can engage the entire community in positive change.
- Digital Equality: Intelligent Communities promote digital equality by creating policies and programs that provide offline citizens with access to computers and broadband, by providing skills training and by promoting a vision of the benefits that the broadband economy can bring to their lives.
- Sustainability: Communities that use fewer resources to create products and provide services are also more efficient and productive, which is key to continued improvements in their standard of living.
- Advocacy: A community’s leaders and citizens can be a barrier to progress or can become its most powerful advocates for a better future. Intelligent Communities work to engage leaders, citizens and organizations as champions of change.
The “Smart City” Commission has an impressive composition, including some of our City’s best and brightest leaders in information technology, diversely drawn from the City’s schools, colleges, medical facilities and business, as well as government. Some appointments are still pending, but as currently constituted, the members have more than enough intellectual power to put the City of Saratoga Springs on the road to become a Smart City in the near future:
- John Mangona –Vice President, Chief Information and Compliance Officer, Saratoga Hospital
- Martin Vanags- President, Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership
- David L’hommedieu- Assistant Superintendent of Information Technology and Operational Innovation, Saratoga Springs City School District
- William Duffy, Chief Technology Officer, Skidmore College
- Christopher R. Markham, Chief Technology Officer, SUNY Empire State College
- Donald Flinton - Computer Services Manager
, Saratoga Springs Public Library
- Kevin Kling- Director, Information Technology, City of Saratoga Springs
- Art Ware- Member at Large
- Tim Holmes – President, Saratoga Springs DBA
- Matt Veitch - Saratoga Springs County Supervisor
- A member of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Committee (TBA)
- Lynn Bachner - Deputy Commissioner of Finance
- Michele Madigan- Commissioner of Finance
Saratoga Girls BB Opens Playoffs with Win
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The number six-seeded Saratoga Springs High Varsity Girls Basketball squad, paced by 20 points from freshman Kelly Flaherty and 15 from eighth-grader Dolly Cairns, defeated number 11 Niskayuna in their opening playoff match, 63-51, on Tuesday, February 16.
Saratoga’s record is now 13-8 overall, and next will square off against number three-seeded Albany on Monday, February 22 at Bethlehem.
Saratoga Boys BB Scores First Round Playoff Win
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Springs High School Varsity Basketball squad, seeded tenth in Section 2 Class AA, registered a strong 72-54 victory in its first round playoff match over Albany on the road, on Tuesday, February 16.
Junior guard Adam Anderson, who scored 27 points and sank 15 of 19 free throws, paced the Blue Streaks and led all scorers. Senior forward Alex Skaine registered 20 points for Saratoga.
The Blue Streaks’ next playoff match is a quarterfinal tilt against number two seed Guilderland and will take place on Saturday, February 20, at 5:30 at Hudson Valley Community College. The semifinals will be at the Glens Falls Civic Center on February 25, and the final will be March 1 at the Times Union Center.
It’s not hockey… It’s Playoff Hockey!
Blue Streaks Take Hard-Earned Victory into Semi’s This Weekend
SARATOGA SPRINGS – It wasn’t the easiest win. But in the end, a quality team got the job done.
Overcoming a tremendous performance by Niskayuna/Schenectady goalie James Blanchfield, the Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks registered a solid, yet hard-earned victory over the Mohawks, 5-1, in their first (quarterfinal) playoff match on Wednesday, February 17, at Weibel Avenue rink. As such, Saratoga will play a semifinal playoff game against Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa this Friday, February 19, at 6:45 p.m.
Saratoga came into the contest with a perfect 13-0 record in league play, while Nisky/Shen was 3-10. Many times, the playoffs will dictate a different, more defensive style of play – as teams feel each other out in the beginning. That was hardly the case with the Blue Streaks here – they came out early and often, forcing Blanchfield to make save after save to keep the game scoreless after the first period. Indeed, with 12 minutes remaining in the second period, Saratoga had outshot the Mohawks 25-2!
While the Blue Streaks were never really threatened in the contest, with literally 95+ percent of the action in their offensive zone, it took quite a bit of effort for them to break through. But they stuck to their game and kept on flying to the net, peppering Blanchfield with shot after shot until finally, at 3:38 into the second period, co-captain Josh Dagle slipped one by Blanchfield, assisted by co-captain Elliot Hungerford. This was followed less than a minute later, at 4:07, with another Blue Streak tally by Colin Paton, assisted by Caleb Smith to put Saratoga up 2-0.
The Mohawks managed their lone goal, on the power play at 8:16, but Saratoga had the answer just over a minute later, as co-captain Jake Fauler, assisted by Brendan Coffey and Hungerford, made it 3-1 Saratoga, and essentially iced the game as you could feel that, despite Blanchfield’s heroics (he would finish with an impressive 51 saves in the contest), the offensive swarming tsunami of the Blue Streaks were a force that would not be denied.
In the third period, Saratoga added to their lead, with Paton registering his second goal at 1:20, and then a power play goal by Hungerford, assisted by Fauler and Coffey at 11:29, closed out the scoring.
Coming in, this had all the elements of a “trap game” – in which Saratoga came in with everything going for itself – a top seed playing at their home rink, and running into a hot goalie. And yet Saratoga made a statement that they were not going to be denied. The fact that they overcame stop after frustrating stop and kept working, sticking to their plan and, at the end, enabling their superior talent to come through, sets them up well for Friday’s semifinal match against Burnt Hills/Ballston Spa – a team which bested CBA on Wednesday, 5-3, and will come in riding an 11 game winning streak.
The winner of Friday’s semifinal game will meet the winner of LaSalle vs. Tri-Falls in the Section 2 final on Thursday, February 25.
The Dynasty Continues
Streak Gymnasts Win Section 2 - Send Nine To States!
LATHAM – This never gets old. Continuing a record of dominance that would make the New York Yankees and Boston Celtics envious, The Saratoga Springs High School Gymnasts have once again captured the Section 2 tournament on Wednesday, February 10 at Shaker High School with a team total of 175.6. They will be sending nine members of their squad to the State Tournament, also to be held this year at Shaker, on Saturday, February 27 at 10 a.m.
For the third consecutive year, the all around title went to tenth-grader Julia Van Horne, and the Blue Streaks captured the top three spots overall. Congrats to Coaches Deb Smarro, Tiffany Hogben and these mighty, mighty team members who are State-bound!
- Julia Van Horne - 1st all around
- Courtney Kirshe - 2nd all around
- Kelsey Jackowitz - 3rd all around
- Carmen Cusick
- Kate Della Ratta
- Laura Eberlein
- Sophie Hrebenach
- Emily Fischer
- Abby Zabielski
Earlier, on Saturday, February 6, on their “home mat” at the Wilton YMCA, the Blue Streak Gymnasts served notice that they were going to be a forced to be reckoned with in the Sectionals and States, by taking the top three spots (and six in the top 9!) in an “all around” meet, where gymnasts compete for individual titles:
1- Julia VanHorne 36.700
2- Courtney Kische 35.450
3- Sophie Hrebenach35.000
6- Laura Eberlein 34.100
8- Kelsey Jackowitz33.900
9- Abby Zabielski 33.300
When Dolly Rocks…The Blue Streaks Roll!
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Throughout the history of basketball, one of the distinctive things is that many of the stars get to be known by just their first name. Today, you have LeBron and Steph. Before that – Michael and Shaq. Before that – Larry, Magic, Kareem and Wilt. You get the idea.
On the local basketball scene, those in the know, already know that there is a new first name to know. And that name is Dolly.
Eighth grader Dolly Cairns has developed a precocious game that belies her years, and is the anchor of the Saratoga Springs Varsity Girls Basketball Squad. Leading a team that is on the rise, despite being the youngest on the floor. Heading into the playoffs, this year’s team is in a solid middle position in the Suburban Council’s strong Blue Division, with a conference record of 9-8, and 12-8 overall. They have to bang heads against powerful squads like Shaker and Shenendehowa – teams with mature stars, and sometimes, frankly, they come away on the short end. But Dolly and the Streaks don’t quit – they buy into their Coach’s goal that they play hard each game, and come away with valuable learning experiences that will serve them well as the team matures. And it says here that the best is yet to come – for both Dolly and her team. And it’s already her team.
In one sense, this is nothing new to her. Dolly has already been a third grader on the fifth grade team, and has been working on her game during pre-school recesses, or with her dad.
Dolly’s talent extends to every aspect of the game – when called upon – she’ll often lead the team in scoring. But she is most satisfied when she elevates her teammates. “Basketball is a team game first, I want to help everyone be their best,” Dolly said. And further good news for Saratoga fans is that she has been playing with some of her teammates for years as well. Like freshman guard Kerry Flaherty – a grade ahead of Dolly, they are often first and second, or vice versa, in scoring most games. Their Coach, Robin Chudy, noted “it’s nice to have two options that have already have played together, and will be together for a long time.”
Coach Chudy also observed that when the season started, “there was no doubt that Dolly would be our starting point guard. But we realized that we needed more from her - to take on more of a scoring role, which is not her first instinct. She’s by nature an unselfish player, often bypassing an open shot if it meant passing to a teammate.”
The results were evident almost immediately. Starting on January 5, Dolly has scored in double-digits in all of the Streaks’ 12 games, over 20 points in three of them (which were all victories).During that time, the team went 8-4, with a seven-game winning streak. “She’s a learner,” Coach Chudy said, “She even volunteers to learn the post-up game.” So, even though she leads the team in several stat categories (such as scoring 14.7 points per game – tied for 29th in Section 2, while averaging about 7 assists per game), there are some pieces of 5’ 7” Dolly’s game that we can look forward to even more improvement as she gains more experience and grows physically.
However, RIGHT NOW, she’s already shown superior skills – meaning as good as anyone around, in two key areas:
- Handling the ball: She brings it up, nearly every time – with fluidity and ambidextrous finesse – you are hard pressed to tell which is her dominant hand. If she doesn’t have the ball, her teammates often hold up to find her and give it to her. “One key to our big improvement over last year,” Coach Chudy said, “is due to Dolly’s ability to break the press as part of her ball handling.” Teams have a near impossible time taking the ball away from her, and she rarely turns it over. When that does happen, it’s usually the result of Dolly aggressively driving through traffic, to penetrate and dish, or create her own shot. More often than a turnover, she draws a foul. Which leads to…
- Free Throws: Coach Chudy tells the tale: “We brought her up to the Varsity halfway through last year (in the seventh grade) and brought her into things slowly. But against Guilderland, the opposing coach got a technical. There was no doubt that I was putting Dolly in to take them. She made both.” And really hasn’t looked back since. Of all the facets of a complete basketball game, free throws are a universal measure of talent and focus regardless of age or level of play. And Dolly’s got this part Down! With a capital D. For the season, she’s burying them at an 80.2% rate, which puts her fourth in all of Section 2, and compares very favorably with the greats of the game. All, we remind you, in the eighth grade. It’s no stretch to say that when you have free throw ability going for you, you don’t often wake up one day and lose it. She’s money in the bank at the line.
Perhaps there’s some correlation between Dolly’s prowess with the geometry of free throws and her favorite subject, math – but we’ll leave that for her to explore as a potential Ph.D. topic someday. She became enthusiastic when talking about her thrill of attending concerts and seeing her favorite – The Zac Brown Band – live at SPAC. Just like you would expect an eighth grader to be.
We had a nice visit with Dolly and her Coach, and it was now practice time. Before she left, I had to ask her. Her given name is Catherine. So…
“I prefer Dolly. My mom called me Dolly when I was little. She said I had the face of a doll.”
Between us, she still does. But when necessary, she’s not afraid to stick that doll-face into the lane and mix it up. Let’s face it: Dolly rocks!
Illegal Housing – Next Door
City Starts to Move Against Airbnb Outbreak
SARATOGA SPRINGS – No neighborhood is immune.
On any given day, hundreds of properties in the City of Saratoga Springs are listed on sites such as VRBO.com (which stands for Vacation Rental By Owner). VRBO had 198 Saratoga Springs area listings as of Monday, and the popular Airbnb.com site had over 300. These properties are being offered to people - individual rooms or up to an entire household - for short stays (one night or more).
In a desirable tourist location such as Saratoga Springs, the popularity of having your family take over an entire house for a wedding, graduation, music festival, etc. is apparent. The only problem is that, according to the City Code – it is also illegal.
As such, Saratoga Springs is but one example of a growing statewide, nationwide, and even international new market phenomenon rising out of the internet age: through these sites, property owners are finding it easy to list, and potential visitors have a larger universe of choices. Buyer meets seller, and everyone’s happy. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that housing used for this type of rental units is being offered in many city neighborhoods where only single or perhaps two-family homes (zoned urban residential or UR-1, 2, or 3) are permitted. Further, the length of guest stays, being frequently short-term – a few days or more – goes against the City Code, which specifies that in these neighborhoods a length of stay that is less than 30 days is considered “transient,” and can only be offered by licensed rooming houses, bed and breakfasts, and hotel/motels. (Note: the city code is crafted so as to specifically exempt track rentals and stays that are longer than 30 days for people vacationing, college students or similar longer-term arrangements).
In Saratoga Springs, the City Code in this case exists not for the purpose of imposing an extra level of bureaucracy. Rather, it attempts to address legitimate concerns, which might be classified into three main areas – security, safety and economic.
The security component: one big reason people buy homes in one/two family neighborhoods is so they will know who their neighbors are. In this context, there is also a public safety component, in that resources must be dedicated to areas all over the city, instead of centralized in a lesser number of places where licensed multi-unit short-term rental properties exist.
The overall market condition regarding the outbreak of short-term rentals was brought to our attention by a reader, who we will call Cece. She owns a house in a quiet neighborhood in the Southeastern end of the city. Cece filed a formal complaint with the City’s Building Department last summer, and enlisted the aid of City Council members to help. In her complaint, she spoke about her neighbor engaging in short-term rentals and the impact on her neighborhood’s quality of life:
“Have you ever tried to sleep with spotlights shining in your bedroom window? Have you ever gone to bed with the windows wide open… only to be inundated with cigarette or cigar smoke blowing into your sleeping quarters? How about drinking parties in the backyard after concerts? This wouldn’t happen if you knew your neighbors. But when the house next door is rented on VRBO at a two-night minimum, you never know who is going to be your neighbor. I live in a UR 2 residential zone, so this shouldn’t happen, right? Wrong. People/tourists do not always behave in the same manner as permanent residents.”
In this case, Cece received a response from Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen, who was sympathetic. In an email, he wrote, “Private units in residential neighborhoods should not be able to be operated as de facto hotel rooms. If the ordinance as presently written does not address this problem, we need to revise it so that these instances do not occur. You are not the first person to complain about such imposition.”
Later, the City’s Building Department issued a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Cece’s neighbor. She is concerned that when next summer comes around she will have to cope with this again, though, as it is not clear what will be done to enforce the order should the neighbor violate it again.
In truth, there are enforcement provisions that exist in the city code that are quite severe, calling for fines of up to $1,000/day in some cases. Yet, as Saratoga Springs officials struggle with several hundred potential violating properties, they said they were mindful that historically, judges have been reluctant to impose fines on property owners. Further complicating the problem is that the City’s Code Enforcement Department has just two people – with their other responsibilities, they have only been able to respond to complaints such as Cece’s, and are mindful about facing an accusation of selectively enforcing a code provision.
This situation has recently changed. A committee comprised of Head Building Inspector Steve Shaw, Code Enforcers Dan Cogan and John Donnelly, City Attorneys Vincent J. DeLeonardis and Tony Izzo, and Deputy Mayor Joseph Ogden, has been meeting for months in an attempt to formulate a strategy about this issue. As a result last week, Cogan indicated the City has sent out a letter to about a dozen property owners (a sample has been obtained by Saratoga TODAY – see graphic) as a first step with an eye toward reaching out to all those who are in violation. Included with the letter that states the property owner is in violation, is a licensing package from the Accounts Department for them to become “legal” – conforming to the guidelines for a special use permit that would allow the owner to operate a short-term rental dwelling.
There would be costs involved in doing this. The permits themselves are not expensive (Code Enforcer Dan Cogan said that it is $25/year for up to five rooms, $50 for up to 10), but in order to qualify for a permit there may be more substantial costs involved in bringing a given building up to the requirements that would be needed to pass a fire inspection for units of this type, as well as carrying extra insurance, and other items. “For us, the primary concern is the safety of the travelling public,” Cogan said. “We have other concerns – such as the impact on the quality of life in the neighborhood and making sure sales and room (bed) taxes are collected. But safety is by far the main priority. We hope the property owner’s contact us to work it out. ”
The issue of lost sales and room taxes are a substantial issue nonetheless. The New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association’s President Jan Chesterton noted that nationwide, the hotel and lodging industry provides nearly 2 million jobs nationwide and supports $141.5 billion in annual business travel tax revenue for state and local governments. Chesterton has been representing the lodging and hospitality industry in a battle to get some State legislation to supplement and strengthen local governments’ efforts to grapple with this situation. “We want to level the playing field,” Chesterton said. A committee, of which Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau is a member, has been educating members of the Legislature and has formulated several key points that they advocate should be part of a legal solution to the short-term online rental universe that they say are compromising consumer safety, endangering the character and security of residential neighborhoods, and avoiding their tax and regulatory obligations.
These provisions include:
• hosts register and obtain a business license;
• short-term online companies are not facilitating illegal activity;
• all taxes are paid;
• basic health, safety and cleanliness standards are met;
• communities and residents of multi-unit buildings are not subject to a revolving door of strangers;
• zoning laws and condominium, co-op, and apartment building rules are followed;
• illegal hotels do not continue to operate; and
• appropriate levels of insurance are in place to protect homeowners, guests and communities.
Chesterton made it clear that safety was also her association’s top priority. “The biggest thing is assuring standardized inspections for all lodging facilities,” she said. “However, there is no doubt that the Capital Region is losing thousands of room/nights per year to these short-term rentals, with all the lost revenue associated with it.” Chesterton expressed confidence that “we will get something done in this legislative session,” which ends in June.
So, the battle lines have become more clearly drawn. This remains a story in process, which should prove to be interesting to see how it plays out locally.