City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — From black-and-white images from the depths of Congress Park to pastel sketches of placid lakes, SPAC as created a social media page created for, and featuring images by members of the community.“Saratoga Performing Arts Center is deeply committed to the transformative power of art and beauty to restore and enrich the human spirit,” the organization says. “In these challenging times, we hope that this online forum inspires and creates a sense of community and hope. We invite you to join us in a sharing of poetry, art, music, dance – things of beauty that bring you joy and light under the dark clouds of uncertainty.” The page may be viewed at Facebook, by visiting “Sparked By Beauty.”
WILTON — Earlier this month U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik visited with President Donald Trump at Camp David, where she said the president talked extensively about the research and development that’s going into a COVID-19 vaccination, as well as the “reopening” of the country.
“The president is very supportive of the safe reopening of the economy, which he’s delegated it to the states, and that was the right decision,” said the Congresswoman during a visit to a Belmonte Builders construction site in Wilton on May 26. “I want to see it at the state level – the delegation to the County Public Health Offices. I think that’s the right call moving forward because they’re the most connected.”
Stefanik represents the 21st Congressional District, which includes parts of Saratoga.
As the community prepares for its potential Phase 2 reopening next week, Stefanik said she believes preparations are also underway should a rise in COVID-19 infections hit the region.
“In my communications with the county public health offices and the hospitals, we are watching the data very, very closely. Our (increased) testing capacity gives us a better understanding of the real data in upstate, because initially we were undertested in this region,” she said. “But certainly, there are plans and discussions going on if there is a second surge in the virus transmission. It’s part of the conversation about reopening schools - we have to reopen schools safely and there are ways to do that - but many of our students who are underserved either in the disabilities community, or who are unable to access online education, they have atrophied so much during this crisis. I feel very confident that those conversations are being professionally handled by the county public health offices.”
Stefanik’s visit coincided with a joint announcement that she and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko made. Tonko represents the 20th Congressional District, which like the 21st District also includes parts of Saratoga. The announcement heralded a $61,515 award from the Federal Communications Commission to improve telehealth for Saratoga Hospital Consortium in Saratoga Springs. The funding is intended for remote diagnosis and monitoring equipment and other telehealth equipment to treat patients with COVID-19 infection and to expand telehealth to other patients with symptoms of COVID-19 infection.
“Out of necessary efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19, telemedicine has quickly become the primary method of connection between a patient and their doctor,” Saratoga Hospital CEO and President Angelo Calbone said in a statement. “Unfortunately, anyone who doesn’t have access to internet services and equipment can’t participate. Sometimes, a video visit can’t provide enough clinical information about a patient’s current status for those with chronic or serious conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. This grant enables us to pilot a Facilitated Telemedicine program that will provide essential medical care to these underserved populations without having to leave their homes.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan last week revised the city’s projected revenue deficit due to the COVID-19 shutdown as between $15 and $17 million for the calendar year, roughly one-third its $48.7 million operating budget for 2020.
At a special meeting of the City Council May 15, the council voted 4-1 for a measure to furlough employees that is expected to save the city about $277,000.
“The Council and Unions chose to make the furlough program voluntary, which was counter to the plan presented by Madigan and made an almost negligible contribution to addressing the city’s serious financial challenges,” read a statement issued by Madigan, explaining her dissenting vote on the measure.
At the regularly scheduled council meeting May 19, the council unanimously approved obtaining a Tax Anticipation Note, or TAN, for $6.3 million.
Madigan said she anticipated the month of June as when the city would deplete its cash; obtaining a TAN will push that date to December, although “it also presents new challenges and costs our taxpayers, as the principal must be prepaid within 12 months and the interest rate will likely be high given current economic conditions.” Madigan said she plans to access $6.5 million in fund balance to help the city meet its financial obligations through November.
MALTA / Schuylerville — Village of Schuylerville Mayor Dan Carpenter and Malta Councilman Timothy Dunn have initiated a friendly wager to see which community can raise more money for its food pantry by July 4.
“We wagered some beers from our local breweries; Bound by Fate Brewing Company from Schuylerville and Unified Beerworks from Malta,” Carpenter says. “This is all in good fun but seriously, this all is to raise money for a good cause.
“To add a little more fun and to put some more skin into the game, if we beat Malta, I will let my children shave my head bald and my wife will get to shave the beard she loves soooo much,” Carpenter added.
“We’re ready to show how Malta works. And sorry, mayor, when we win, my hair and beard are staying right where they are!” responded Dunn.
To donate to the Schuylerville SAFER food pantry, go to: secure.givelively.org/donate/saratoga-county-foundation-inc/stronger-together-schuylerville.
To donate to the Malta Food Pantry, go to: secure.givelively.org/donate/saratoga-county-foundation-inc/malta-helps?fbclid=IwAR2RfVCNbo-tuUCLgg71tJO21Uk-Cf8APJvw_1xc9cGORqSWwJbsZl4JbLY.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A continued adherence to social distancing and face-covering guidelines have reduced the COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rate significantly across the Capital Region during the past few weeks, and as such, businesses in the Spa City and the surrounding communities are preparing to potentially enter the Phase 2 reopening of their establishments next week.
“It’s working,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week, referring to New Yorkers across the state reducing the curve of the virus infection.
Cuomo’s NY Pause order went into effect March 22, and the city of Saratoga Springs and the greater Capital District Region were cleared by the state to begin the phase 1 re-opening of the local economy beginning Wednesday, May 20.
There are four reopening phases in all, and an up-to 14-day incubation period between phases to ensure that infection rates and hospitalizations are maintained at a manageable level.
And while the state has yet to release Phase 2 reopening guideline, or give the OK to cycle into the next phase, there is a general belief that that the region will meet the metrics required and be able to reopen for Phase 2 at the expiration of the 14-day incubation period on Wednesday, June 3.
Phase Two reopening allows for the following: Professional Services (including hair salons and stylists among them); Retail; Administrative Support; Real Estate / Rental & Leasing. Social distancing, face coverings and limited occupancy requirements will remain in place.
WHAT IS REQUIRED OF BUSINESSES
Every business is required to develop a written safety plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Businesses may develop their own safety plan or use the template below provided by the state. To download that state created Safety Plan Template, go to: governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYS_BusinessReopeningSafetyPlanTemplate.pdf.
A copy of the plan must be retained on business premises at all times and be made available to the NYS Department of Health (DOH) or local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection.
One key factor in reducing the spread of the virus is, when discovering someone has been infected with the virus, tracing that person’s previously known whereabouts and with whom they had come into contact. According to the CDC, the goal is to trace and monitor contacts of infected people, notify them of their exposure and support the quarantine of contacts to prevent additional transmission.
“We’ve done that from day one in Saratoga County and that’s how we flatten the curve, how we were able to reopen, and how we’ll be able to stay open,” Cathy Medick, Department of Health Director of Patient Services said during a forum the county hosted May 27.
Additional questions were raised during the forum regarding the topic.
Q: How do big box stores like Walmart, Target, etc. Do tracing? Is that any different than small businesses?
A. Cathy Medick, Department of Health Director of Patient Services: “No. As far as their employees go, they have to keep track of all the employees that are on for a shift and it’s their responsibility to have it as part of their safety plan. We have worked with bigger businesses and places that have had positive cases. Many of them had used their security cameras or their Frequent Shopper cards to identify people who may have come into contact. We do realize it would be impossible to write down every single customer that comes into the store, so, that’s the main difference there.”
Q. How is our privacy protected, and what type of information is to be given to a contact tracer?
A. Medick: “Under Public Health Law, HIPPA is skewed a bit. As a Public Health entity, we have the right to collect information to protect the health of the greater public.”
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, a panelist at the forum, was also asked about the topic.
Q. What happens to a business owner if contact tracers track a cluster back to their business – and, what is the extent of that liability?
A. Todd Shimkus: “One of things businesses need to do as part of their safety plan is to figure out how they are going to manage contact tracing should somebody from the county show up at their business a day later, or at any point in time and say: ‘OK, you had a customer who was here three days ago, we need to make sure we notify you, your employees and anyone else who might have been here.’ So, every business as part of your plan, you have to have some way of recording who was in your store, your business or workplace every day, so in case there is contact tracing going forward you can contact those people who were there. It’s part of your responsibility as part of your safety plan.
“The second is liability. This is a much bigger challenge. The liability provisions in terms of insurance and the law do not cover COVID-19.
“That means you at the very least, have to comply with the existing law which goes back to having a safety plan. Making sure that safety plan uses all the right protocols: that your employees are following it, that your customers are following it, so that you don’t have any issues that cause you liability concerns.”
The NYS Forward Safety Plan Template regarding the issue, directs that customers may be “encouraged” to provide their information, but are “not mandated to do so.”
That specific segment reads: “Maintain a continuous log of every person, including workers and visitors, who may have close contact with other individuals at the work site or area; excluding deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means; excluding customers, who may be encouraged to provide contact information to be logged but are not mandated to do so.”
Additionally, “Which employee(s) will be in charge of maintaining a log of each person that enters the site (excluding customers and deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means), and where will the log be kept?”
Again, while a Safety Plan is required, the state informs that a business may use the NYS Forward Safety Plan Template to fulfill the requirement, or may develop its own Safety Plan.
An official announcement regarding the OK for the second phase of reopening is anticipated soon, as Friday marks 14 days since a handful of regions in the state began phase one. And in what may ease any confusion, the state is also expected to release detailed updates regarding Phase Two plans. For the most current update, go to: forward.ny.gov.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Wednesday’s dawn brought to Saratoga a morning unlike any of the 58 days that had come before it.
After hitting on all of the region’s required benchmarks that both document the downward trajectory of infections past, and prepare for potential viral spikes of the future, Saratoga and the seven other counties that surround it were cleared by the state to begin phase 1 of re-opening the local economy on May 20.
“I feel like we’ve been in a bubble,” said Emma Lance, poking her masked face through the door of the Saratoga Tea & Honey Shop on Broadway, where the day’s online orders and curbside pickups were being prepared. “You can’t see my mouth behind this mask,” she added, “but I’m smiling.”
Commercial photographer Tom Stock escaped his daily honey-do list posted inside his home by planting a metal folding chair in front of Uncommon Grounds coffee shop on Broadway, where he took in all the wonders the blue-sky Wednesday offered, while thinking about future reopening phases that will allow more shops to open and people to more readily mingle.
Wednesday’s Phase One reopening allowed for the first wave of industries to re-start - construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, manufacturing and wholesale trade, among them. Retail is limited to curbside or in-store pickup or drop off. For all businesses reopening, physical distancing measures, face covering protections and maximum indoor capacity adjustments must be implemented and maintained.
Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, city police Chief Shane Crooks and Fire Department Chief Aaron Dyer – all members of Saratoga Springs’ COVID-19 Reopen Task Force – visited businesses door-to-door Wednesday morning, talking to store owners and employees, and handing out safety plans outlining how businesses’ workplaces can prevent the spread of COVID-19. New York State requires each re-opening business to develop a written safety plan. Businesses may develop their own safety plan or use a template provided by the state. (Details about obtaining those forms are below).
An Executive Order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo put New York State on PAUSE on March 22, setting social distancing measures in place, closing non-essential businesses, and limited public gatherings in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Statewide to-date, just over 350,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. Overall, more than 28,000 have died due to COVID-19 in New York, more than 92,000 in the U.S., and more than 325,000 across the globe, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
Current daily figures point to an average of just over 100 deaths per day in New York due to the virus, matching just about where those figures were on March 26. In April, the death tally spiked to greater than 700 per day for several days.
“We’re basically back to where we started before this tragedy descended upon us,” Gov. Cuomo said, this week.
“What will happen with reopening?” Cuomo remarked May 20, on the day the Capital Region reopened for phase one. “Whatever we make happen. There is no predestined course. What will happen is a consequence of our choices and a consequence of our actions,” he said. “If people are smart and responsible and if employers and employees are responsible, then you will see the infection rate stay low. If people get arrogant, if people get cocky, if people get casual or people become undisciplined – you will see that infection rate go up. It is that simple. It has always been about what we do.”
The governor also announced on Wednesday that religious gatherings of no more than 10 people will be allowed as long as statewide social distancing measures are enforced and participants wear masks. Earlier in the week, Cuomo announced racecourses – such as Saratoga Race Course and the Saratoga Casino’s harness track - may open June 1 without fans. NYRA subsequently announced the Belmont meet will get underway June 3 and will concludes July 12. The Saratoga meet is slated to open four days later.
“Do your part: wear a mask. It is amazing how effective that mask actually is,” Cuomo said Wednesday, pointing to statistics that show frontline workers - downstate hospital employees, transit workers, NYPD and FDNY/EMT workers – each having lower infection rates than the general population. “How can they all have a lower infection rate? They’re wearing the mask,” Cuomo said. “The mask works. It’s in the data.”
Meeting the metrics and maintaining control over the virus spread is key to remaining “open,” as well as in moving forward through the series of successive phases that will see the reopening of an ever-increasing number of additional businesses. That holds true for the entire “Capital Region” designation. The Capital Region sector is comprised of eight counties: Albany, Columbia, Greene, Saratoga, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Warren, Washington.
There are four reopening phases in all, and 14 days - or less, should metrics not increase, as deemed by regional leaders – are in between the phases. Those phases and dates are:
Potentially June 3 or sooner - Phase Two: Professional Services (which includes hairdressers and salons), Retail, Administrative Support, Real Estate / Rental and Leasing.
Potentially June 17 or sooner - Phase Three: Restaurants /
Potentially July 1 or sooner - Phase Four: Arts / Entertainment / Recreation, Education.
For businesses: Business plans do not need to be submitted to a state or local agency for approval, but must be retained on the premises of the business and must be made available to the New York State Department of Health (DOH) or local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — For the first time in its 53-year history, Saratoga Performing Arts Center has cancelled its classical season.
The cancellations include: SPAC's summer resident companies New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as well as "Not Our First Goat Rodeo" featuring Yo-Yo Ma, and "SPAC on Stage."
SPAC along with its board of directors made the decision to suspend its programming this summer in recognition of the continued threat to health and safety caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“So much thought, care, heart and soul go into crafting and preparing for our summer season that we truly think of it as a love letter to our community. To find it necessary to cancel what would have been one of the most ambitious and artistically inspiring seasons to date is just gut-wrenching and inconceivable,” said Elizabeth Sobol, SPAC’s President and CEO, in a statement. “But the indisputable truth is that even with our park setting and our 5,200 seats, it would be simply impossible to find a way to keep the artists and the community safe.”
“SPAC has been New York City Ballet’s summer home since 1966 and this will be the first time in more than 50 years that the Company will not be performing in the capital region, which is devastating for all of us,” said NYCB Executive Director Katherine Brown. “However, the health and safety of our artists, staff, and audiences is our number one priority at this time, and we support SPAC’s decision to cancel this summer’s performances. All of us at New York City Ballet look forward to returning to SPAC next summer to perform for the wonderful and loyal fans who come to see us each summer in one of the country’s most beautiful performing arts venues.”
Due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis, SPAC faces the loss of millions of dollars in ticket, rental and sponsorship income. As a 501(c)3 charitable organization, SPAC depends on ticket sales and the generosity of individuals and corporate underwriters for 80% of its annual budget, which includes an education program that reaches 50,000 students throughout the Capital Region every year.
"For the past 53 years, SPAC has been a beacon of hope, light and refuge for the community -- and the support of the community has been critical to its life and longevity. The loss of ticket income, event sponsorships and key sources of revenue is going to hit SPAC incredibly hard. Continued community support through membership, ticket donations and philanthropic contributions will be critical to how SPAC emerges from the crisis,” added Sobol.
"That said, while our traditional season is unable to continue for 2020, SPAC leadership is committed to continuing to provide the kind of inspiring and transformative experiences for which SPAC is known and loved. Our dedication to art, artists and community is undimmed. If anything, we feel more galvanized than ever to serve as a sanctuary and cultural convener for our community during this time of uncertainty and darkness," said Sobol.
SPAC is holding dates for the return of New York City Ballet on July 13-17, 2021; The Philadelphia Orchestra on August 4-21, 2021; and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in August 2021, exact dates TBA.
For every ticketholder of the 2020 classical season who chooses to convert all or a minimum of $25 of their ticket purchase into a tax-deductible donation, SPAC will donate two 2021 tickets to first responders and local health care workers.
Visit SPAC.org for options to donate, receive a credit, or to request a refund for SPAC performances. Ticketholders will also be contacted directly via email with their ticketing options.
Any changes to the rock, pop and country concert schedule will be made directly by Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which programs and manages those shows in addition to their related ticketing policies. Visit https://www.livenationentertainment.com/ticketrefund/.
At the moment, the first two pop concerts of the season –June 24: KIDZ BOP Live 2020 Tour, and June 30: Steely Dan with Special Guest Steve Winwood, are still on. The cancellation of annual two-day Saratoga Jazz Festival was previously announced.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — At precisely noon on a May day in 1975, the Rolling Stones emerged atop a flatbed truck instruments in hand and performed live for a group of pedestrians lining Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village.
Fast-forward to 2020: precisely at noon on Thursday, May 21, Caffe Lena will kick-off a celebration of the café’s 60th anniversary.
Billed as “Thursday, May 21: Caffe Lena Celebrates 60 Years of Song,” flatbed trucks will roll around town starting at noon with live bands playing music on the back. The café will announce the route in advance and say: we'd love to see you parked on the shoulder, waving and bopping in your decorated car.
At 7 p.m., a two-hour online program of stories, songs and photos will be livestreamed to celebrate each of the café’s six decades. The Tip Jar will be open for business and voluntary support for the event is welcome. The anniversary concert had originally been planned as Lena’s major fundraiser for 2020.
Meanwhile, Caffe Lena’s “Stay Home Sessions” broadcast at 8 p.m. and upcoming performances feature: Dan Berggren Friday, May 15; Chuck Lamb & Jorge Gomes Saturday, May 16; Peter Mulvey Monday, May 18, and Deena Chappell on Tuesday, May 19. For more information, go to caffelena.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city may take several cost-cutting actions during its Tuesday, May 19 meeting as it looks for ways to fill an anticipated absence of revenue sources due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan estimated the city may lose $14 to $16 million in revenue in 2020 - nearly one-third its $48.7 million operating budget. Furloughs, deferred raises, retirements, and layoffs are all on the table.
“In the face of the absence of federal assistance coupled with revenue losses – all of our revenues pretty much - jurisdictions across the state are moving ahead with layoffs and furloughs,” Madigan said, during the council’s last meeting, earlier this month. “It is critical that we significantly reduce our spending now.”
Furloughs are preferable to layoffs, Madigan said, as they would provide immediate expense reductions as well as allowing those furloughed the ability to collect state unemployment funding as well as maintain their city-provided benefits. While 33 city employees are “available” for retirement, however, at retirement they would be due compensatory time, sick time and overtime pay.
“Many of our employees have reduced duties during our stay-at-home period while the city still pays them as if they were working a 100% schedule,” she said. “The more people we furlough now – and it will be difficult - the fewer we will need to consider laying off later in the year.”
Through the first quarter of 2020, the city announced it had collected just over $9.1 million (or 57%) in property taxes, but by the March 31 reporting date had not received many larger revenue streams. Those include: sales tax figures (March collections are distributed to the city in April and May), VLT Aid (paid in June), Hotel Occupancy Tax (April), Water and Sewer Revenues (May 15 due date) as well as other sources paid later in the year. The city is annually paid NYRA Admissions Tax for hosting the summer meet, but that funding outcome is not known for 2020 should NYRA decide to run at Saratoga while not admitting ticket-paying fans.
Every county in every region of the state saw a large drop in local sales tax collections in April, according to a report announced by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on May 12. Social distancing protocols were established with the “New York State on PAUSE” initiative, which has shuttered non-essential businesses and offices since March 22.
Of all regions in the state, the greater Capital District had the most severe decline – down 28.8 percent and totaling $42.6 million - down from $59.9 million exactly one year earlier.
Saratoga County was down from $10 million to $7.4 million overall, and tax collections in Saratoga Springs specifically dropped from $900,000 in April 2019 to $700,000 in April 2020, according to the report, which rounds figures in millions of dollars.
To compensate for a potential $14 million to $16 million revenue shortfall in Saratoga Springs in 2020, the council is contemplating the use of approximately $4.5 million of the city’s unassigned and unrestricted fund balance, Madigan said, as well as “$1 million from the re-assignment of various assignments, $2.4 million in a budget note due to be paid back at the end of 2021, and $4 million in departmental expense reductions.” Those measures total $11.9 million, leaving a projected revenue shortfall of $2.1 to $4.1 million.
Earlier this month, the City Council approved a series of budget transfer resolutions to fund the last stage of renovations at City Hall, which has been closed since an August 2018 lightning strike caused substantial damage to the 19th century structure. Shortly after the closure of City Hall, the city relocated most of its operations to the Vanderbilt Avenue recreation facility.
Approximately $567,000 is required to complete the renovation of the building.
To that point, the City Council unanimously approved moving $167,000 from the building reserve fund, $151,000 that had been targeted for the Saratoga Arts building, and more than $188,000 of the $200,000 it had previously approved for Recreation Department Skate Park improvements at East Side Rec. Last week, the city announced the cancellation of Recreation Department summer events and camps.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city’s three Land Use Boards – the Planning Board, Design Review Commission, and Zoning Board of Appeals have resumed their public meetings, which are currently held virtually via Zoom videoconferencing. They may be viewed by visiting the city of Saratoga Springs website at saratoga-springs.org.
This week, the DRC is expected to preside over architectural reviews regarding Station Lane Apartments - a new three-building, 39-unit apartment complex on the city’s west side, and Bethesda Episcopal – a mixed-use 4-story building at 26 Washington St.
Additionally, a popular Stewart’s Shop, which has operated at 402 Lake Avenue since 1990, is seeking an area variance that will redevelop/expand the current shop into a 4,130 square foot convenience store, with two gasoline fueling canopies. The improvements will “bring the building into closer aesthetic alignment with its surroundings,” according to documents filed with the city.