Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Thursday, 31 March 2022 13:01

Matt McCabe Honored on Broadway

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Beloved local man Matt McCabe fi who for a quarter-century operated a number of Saratoga Guitar shops, hosted The Capital Region Guitar Show, and from 2004 to 2007 served as city Finance Commissioner, was posthumously honored with a plaque fixed to a bench on Broadway bearing his name.   

The bench stands at the northeast corner of Broadway and Caroline Street, a few yards from the spot where McCabe opened his first shop - a small 160 square-foot space fitted with 48 used guitars and 10 amplifiers in June 1994. 

He would subsequently grow to a bigger space, increase the number of his Saratoga Guitar shops, and expand inventory to include the sale of new, used, and vintage instruments, a plethora of accessories, sheet music, vinyl records, and where he and his staff would conduct instrument repairs. McCabe also became the host of The Capital Region Guitar Show - one of the longest-running guitar shows in the country - in addition to performing his own shows and serving as a two-term city Finance Commissioner. McCabe died from complications of COVID-19 in January 2021. 

“Matt McCabe had provided remarkable services to the city as a commissioner of finance as well as his unflagging assistance of city events, the city’s downtown business organizations," outgoing Finance Commissioner Madigan told the City Council in late 2021 while bringing a resolution to the table to commemorate McCabe. A variety of plans were discussed. Ultimately a bench fixed with a plaque bearing McCabe’s name standing on Broadway was decided as the best course of action. Madigan, who served as city finance commissioner from 2012 to 2021, said before she left office that a bench would be placed on Broadway in the spring. This week, that promise became a reality.    

SARATOGA SPRINGS - At this week’s meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the board is anticipated to hear proposals for the construction of an addition to the principal building at 168 Lincoln/Siro’s to serve as restrooms for courtyard patrons during track season, and an area variance to permit the construction of a mixed-use development at 126 West Ave. 

The proposed project on West Ave. consists of the construction of a mixed-use building containing 4 townhouses, office space, and a third-floor apartment unit on a µ-acre site. The property contains an existing single-family residence.

The ZBA meets 6:30 p.m. on Monday, April 4. 

Other Saratoga Springs city meetings: the Planning Board hosts a workshop at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 7 and its full meeting Thursday, April 14; the Design Review Commission hosts a caravan at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6 and its full meeting Wednesday, April 13. 

The City Council hosts its pre-agenda meeting 9 a.m. Monday, April 4, and its full meeting Tuesday, April 5. Full council meetings typically begin at 7 p.m. and are generally preceded by a series of topic-specific public hearings. A list of specific topics was not immediately available.   

Saratoga COUNTY committee meetings this week: Buildings & Grounds (April 5); Economic Development (April 7); Government Efficiency (April 6); Health & Human Services (April 6); Human Resources & Insurance (April 7); Legislative & Gaming Affairs (April 5); Public Safety (April 6); Public Works (April 6); Sewer Commission (April 7); Veterans’ Affairs (April 5). Times and respective agendas not immediately available. For updated information, go to: saratogacountyny.gov, and click on 2022 Meetings. The monthly Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled to take place on April 19.   

Thursday, 31 March 2022 11:52

Open Case: Break-In, Vandalism, Hate Crime

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The first indication something was amiss came in the form of an anonymous complaint someone made with the city, says Heather Chevally. A few days later the hard evidence showed up literally fixed to the interior walls of the house. 

“I have no idea if the two things are correlated, but the timing is suspicious," she says. “To me, it feels like someone is watching."

Chevalley works in software sales. She grew up on Long Island, where her family was employed in the home-building industry. Chevalley’s wife Adrienne grew up in the Geyser Crest neighborhood of Saratoga Springs - where her mother still resides. They recently embarked on a side project buying and rehabbing houses. 

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Our goal is to make a living doing this eventually, and to be responsible people in real estate‚" Chevalley says. “Eventually, we’d love this to be our full-time job." 

There is another home in Saratoga they are rehabbing and are also involved in a project in the Rochester area fi “similar, but (in that instance) we’re going into lower income areas, to get the bad landlords out and give people a better quality of life and a home they could be proud to live in." 

Given Adrienne’s background and familiarity with Geyser Crest, they purchased a home in the neighborhood and are undertaking a $100,000 rehab with the purpose of re-investing in the community.

The home is settled in a residential community, a short song’s serenade south of SPAC, in a neighborhood comprised of single-family homes, accented by driveways and an occasional attached garage. An American flag flies here. A portable basketball hoop stands there. A cross-section of roads swoop into one another, bending around soft turns.    

“We feel like there’s a right way and a wrong way to be successful. We’re big believers in good karma and I think when you give back to the community and do things in the right way, the community and people give back to you as well,‚ she says. “I feel the same way about our realtor and our contractor. I really like these guys, trustworthy, just making sure everything they’re putting their name on is being done right.“

Five weeks into the project came an unexpected visit from the city. “Last week, the building department showed up because of a complaint fi which we thought was weird. We had talked to all our neighbors, and everybody seemed really friendly. The guys working are very friendly and the job site is kept very clean. Nothing in the house needed to be permitted, but they got a complaint and made us stop working, until I went down to the city‚" says Chevalley, adding that the complaint was made by an anonymous person, or, at least by someone not known to her. An engineer visited the home and confirmed that given the work being, done a permit was not needed. After a two-day pause, the project resumed. It was Friday.   

On Saturday morning, when the contractor entered the house, he noticed someone had broken in after the crew had left the previous day. The windows were all open, the heat turned off. A roll of blue painter’s tape was peeled off and used to create a large message that spread across two interior walls. One read: “GET OUT." The second one: N-word, plural. All in caps. 

“The crew are all people of color. It was very clearly directed at them. We were devastated. To walk in and have to look at that? They’re such good guys. I was sick to my stomach," Chevalley says. 

“Someone specifically broke in the house to send a message. There was thousands of dollars of tools and equipment there. They didn’t steal anything. They wrote on the walls in painter’s tape. They shut our heat off and left the windows open - it was a cold night and the pipes froze and busted. Honestly, it was creepy. They broke in and entered just to send a message.

Police were called and initiated an investigation. They unfurled painter’s tape from the wall hoping to secure fingerprints, dusted the windows, and found a hand-print on the wall, Chevalley says. “The police seem pretty committed. Obviously this is appalling, so hopefully they can figure out who did it."

One of the steps involves learning whether the person who initially called the building department with the complaint is connected in some way to the person or persons who broke in. The break-in occurred the first day after the crew returned to work. 

“It’s being taken very seriously because of the nature of the incident‚" said Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino. He confirmed there was a search at the scene for fingerprints and that an investigation is underway. Potential charges could include offenses related to the break-in, as well as to the intentional targeting of persons regarding their race or color, by definition a hate crime.   

“I’m sure there are more hateful people out there than I want to believe, but I just can’t imagine this is how people think," Chevalley says. “I do generally feel this is an isolated incident. That not the way of the community. The community has really seemed to rally around the guys. They have been stopping by and bringing the guys lunch; people said they want to hire them for more work in the neighborhood," she says.  “You really have to have nothing going on in your life to break into someone’s house because you hate someone so much over the color of their skin. I can’t even start to try to understand that."  

SARATOGA SPRINGS – There were 83,931 bowls of chowder served by 74 vendors in last weekend’s chowder festival, attended by more than 30,000 people, according to Discover Saratoga President Darryl Leggieri.   

“After two challenging years, it was great to get back to some sense of normalcy. The support of our members, community and city officials is truly appreciated,” said Leggieri. Discover Saratoga, known as the Saratoga Convention & Tourism Bureau, is promoter of the annual event.

The Saratoga Chowder Fest ‘N Tour was held Saturday, March 19, through Saturday, March 26. Chowder lovers had the opportunity to dine-in or purchase pints and quarts of chowder to-go at participating locations throughout the week.

The 24th Annual Chowderfest celebration took place March 26. Event-goers sampled a variety of chowder from participating vendors for $2 each and voted for their favorite. The 2022 Saratoga Chowder Fest ‘N Tour winners are:

  • People’s Choice 500 bowls or less: The Mill on Round Lake, Bubba Gump Chowder
  • People’s Choice 501-750 bowls: Dizzy Chicken Wood Fired Rotisserie, Brazilian Smoked Seafood Chowder
  • People’s Choice 751-1,000 bowls: Ribbon Cafe, Southwest Shrimp Corn Chowder Topped Tequila Lime Bacon and a Wonton Popper
  • People’s Choice 1,001-1,500 bowls: Wheatfields Restaurant & Bar, Crawfish Cajun Corn Chowder
  • People’s Choice 1,501- 2,000 bowls: Henry Street Taproom, Bacon and Pickle Buffalo Chicken Chowder
  • People’s Choice 2,001-3,000 bowls: Parting Glass, Luck of the Irish Chowder
  • People’s Choice 3,001-4,000 bowls: Cantina, Creamy Chicken Jalapeño Chowder

People’s Choice 4,001+ bowls: Jacob & Anthony's American Grille, Jacob’s Chowder

Monday, 28 March 2022 12:05

Sting Returns to Saratoga in September

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Sting will stage a show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sept. 7.

Sting was most famously part of the three-member ensemble The Police – which got their start as the backing band for Cherry Vanilla in spring 1977. He has since gone on to a successful solo career.

The Saratoga show is billed as Sting’s “My Songs” concert and is scheduled to featuring tunes from his solo career as well as his time with the Police.  

Sting will be accompanied by an electric, rock ensemble, and son Joe Sumner will appear as special guest.

Tickets go on sale 10 a.m. on Friday, April 1 through Ticketmaster.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Architectural plans were submitted to the city March 10 regarding a proposed addition to the Weibel Avenue ice rink. The project includes a 3,700 square foot addition on the northern side of the existing building to serve as a locker room for the Skidmore College hockey team. 

Skidmore College entered into a license agreement with the city of Saratoga Springs last October allowing Skidmore to construction the addition to serve as the college team’s locker room, pending an advisory opinion from the city’s Design Review Commission. The terms and length of the license were not immediately made available. The licensed area will continue to be owned by the city and will be turned over by the college to the city at the end of the license term.   

Representative of Skidmore College are scheduled to present the project to the Design Review Commission this week.

Thursday, 24 March 2022 12:35

Primer at The Pump

SARATOGA SPRINGS —There are more than 150,000 fueling stations across America and you can imagine the scene playing out at any one of those pump-stations as much the same. The car pulls up. The driver gets out and gazes up at the sign displaying the cost of a gallon of gas. Driver shakes head in disgust, verbally unmuzzling a volley of irritations at an invisible cast of invented villainous characters that includes everything from profiteering corporations to inept political leaders and greedy oil executives. But it’s not quite so simple.   

The national average for a gallon of gas this week set motorists back about $4.25, with the state average in New York slightly higher at $4.35, according to AAA. The lowest prices – where a gallon of gas could be had for under $4 - is in the central part of the country, where a north-to-south line extends from Minnesota and North Dakota to Oklahoma and Texas. The highest costs, at over $5 per gallon, are in the westernmost states of Nevada and California. 

Earlier this month the organization noted it was seeing numbers not viewed at the pump since the financial crisis in 2008, the highest on record, and pointed to the steady climb since the start of the calendar year due to strained supply, increased demand, and a spike in oil prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nearly all of the gasoline sold in the U.S. is produced domestically, however. So, why the spike? 

“People have to realize: it goes up, it goes down. It’s a commodity. That’s what it does. What’s taking place right now is fear. There was a lot of fear with Russia going into Ukraine. It spiked,” says local resident Jim Eliopulos, who has been in the oil and gas industry for over 30 years. In 1989, he founded Alexander Production Company in Saratoga Springs, transitioned out of operations in 2018 and currently deals with leasing rights to companies drilling the Marcellus wells. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, demand started to increase. We were in a very good place because people were able to see their freedom: flying, driving, shopping, whatever it is – they were more active with their form of transportation. The production side was still lagging and what people don’t understand is, you hear it all the time - that oil and gas is having a labor shortage,” Eliopulos says.  “I do want to say that the oil and gas industry is not withholding any of their gains in oil and gas to pummel the public.”

“Now when Russia invaded Ukraine, if anyone was paying attention to oil prices, it was nuts. That was nothing more than fear-based. There is always fear when things like this take place,” he says. “On the opposite side of it, in 2020 when things were shut down and people were closed-in purposefully, it was going the opposite way. Gasoline per-gallon was way, way down. I don’t think I have ever seen oil go as low as it did during that period of time.” 

Prices at the gas pump historically follow the global cost of crude oil - which is influenced by expectations of consumer demand, supply, world events, and other factors. The cost of crude oil is the largest component of the retail price of gasoline. And U.S. Crude Oil first purchase price has fluctuated wildly. 

One barrel of crude oil is 42 gallons. It is a measurement adopted as a standard that dates to late 19th petroleum producers of Pennsylvania, the world’s then-center of petroleum production. One barrel of crude oil produces 19 to 20 gallons of motor gasoline, and approximately 9 gallons of diesel and home heating oil. The remaining oil is used to make plastics and other products. 

A monthly analysis dating back several decades indicates the 1980s hit a high cost of about $34 per barrel in the spring of 1981 and a cost low of under $10 in the summer of 1986. During the next decade, a per-barrel cost topped $30 in 1990, and dipped to below $9 in 1999. 

In the current century, the cost per barrel hit the $100 mark during several months in 2008, and again in 2013, whereas the lowest costs in each decade, at under $20, were in October 2001 – Feb. 2002 (the months immediately following 9/11), and in April-May 2020 (the early days of the pandemic), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.    

Specifically at the pump meanwhile, the cost of gas first climbed over 50 cents per gallon in the mid-1970s, broke the $1 per gallon barrier in 1980, and the $2 mark in 2005, according to a 2018 USA Today study “What A Gallon of Gas Cost the Year You Were Born,” which tracks the annual average price per gallon from 1929 to 2016.

The varying cost at the pump from one state to another is also affected by the amount of taxes each state applies. Nearly all states levy taxes or other fees on gasoline sales, which goes on top of the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon. In its July 2021 report, the American Petroleum Institute reported that New York was the ninth highest in the country in total state taxes on gasoline.    

With costs spiking earlier this month, lawmakers in Georgia and in Maryland announced measures to temporarily halt their respective state gas taxes. A number of other states, including New York, are currently debating whether to follow suit. 

To save money, there are methods drivers could employ to be less wasteful in their use of gas. Common-sense suggestions aside (avoid unnecessary trips, carpool, run multiple errands in one trip), it helps to ensure that tires are properly inflated, that vehicles don’t idle unnecessarily, and to adopt good driving habits. To the latter point, aggressive driving – speeding, rapidly accelerating and braking – can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent when driving around town, according to a list of Gas-Saving Tips released by the U.S. Department of Energy.   

Mayor Kim presented a resolution, unanimously approved by a 4-0 council vote, regarding the current conflict in Ukraine. 

The mayor detailed the emotional and psychological sufferings of the Ukrainian people resulting from the terror of the military attack, as well as the severe impact of the military invasion on Ukraine’s society and economy.

“It has long been said that the only thing necessary for bad people to succeed is for good people to stand back and say nothing. As long as we, as Americans, accept this aggression, the problem will continue to increase,” Kim said. “Therefore, now, this City Council condemns the invasion of Ukraine and declares support for the Ukrainian people and urges freedom-loving people of the world to denounce the devastating violence that threatens the lives and the country of the Ukrainian people.” 

Commissioner Montagnino noted there is a Ukrainian church in Watervliet that will be setting up a web site where local people can register to offer housing for Ukrainian refugees when they are given visas to enter the U.S. 

St. Nicholas Church, located at 2410 4th Ave. Watervliet, currently posts a list of a variety of  items which may be donated as part of humanitarian aid to Ukraine.  That web site is: www.cerkva.com/. 

Thursday, 17 March 2022 15:14

City News: Saratoga Springs

Council Approves Outdoor 

Dining, State Must Act 

The council approved amending City Code to permit temporary outdoor seating areas for eating and drinking establishments. The measure will be open to every food and beverage business in Saratoga Springs, said Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran. “We’re still dealing with the effects of the pandemic and this is essential to the economy of Saratoga Springs,” he added. 

Eating/drinking license holders are required to apply for an outdoor seating permit via the city’s Department of Accounts. The permit will then be reviewed by the newly formed Committee on Outdoor Dining, comprised of the Fire Battalion Chief and a handful of appointed city officials. Final approval would be authorized by City Council vote.   

The state must also act, specifically related to the issue of the serving of alcohol beverages outside. Moran said he is working with local and state political leaders regarding the issue.    

A permit fee, of a not-yet-determined amount will apply and is expected to vary in cost as per the amount of space that will be used.  Those fees will be announced at the next City Council meeting. The permits, to be issued annually, will remain in effect until Nov. 1 of the year in which they were issued. 

CRB: Proposal 

Anticipated in April

A fourth Public Hearing was held this week regarding the potential formation of civilian police review board. It is anticipated a proposal will be presented to the City Council by Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino in advance of the next council meeting on April 5. 

SOTC is Saturday

Mayor Ron Kim announced the State of the City Address will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 19 in the Music Hall at City Hall. The event is open to the public. Congressman Paul Tonko will introduce the mayor. The SOTC address may also be viewed via live stream at www.saratoga-springs.org. 

March is Gambling 

Awareness Month

The city issued a proclamation highlighting regional, state and national councils on Problem Gambling naming March as Gambling Awareness Month. 

“We are a gambling town, but we are also a town that respects responsible gambling,” Mayor Ron Kim said. 

Problem gambling affects more than 600,000 state residents of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds, according to the New York Council on Problem Gambling, and promoting public awareness provides an educational tool for both policy makers and the public about warning signs and available support for individuals and their families struggling with problems related to gambling activity. For more information and resources, go to: strongerthanyouthinkny.org.    

Thursday, 17 March 2022 14:09

Public Safety Decision Raises Red Flags

SARATOGA SPRINGS — There has been an increase in largely negative public reaction focused on late-night weekend activities in downtown Saratoga Springs of late. And while crime has not statistically increased in a significant way said Jim Montagnino, the city public safety commissioner this week introduced the first phase of a multi-phase Patrol Division Increase Initiative that will as its first step eliminate the assistant police chief position and re-allocate those funds to hire additional patrols.   

“We need as many police officers as possible to be available to keep the city safe. This is the underlying basis of the Patrol Division Increase Initiative,” Montagnino told the council during its March 15 meeting. To illustrate a point, he discussed an incident that occurred earlier this month.    

“On March 5, there was a situation in which an individual was arrested and found to be in possession of a loaded 9 mm handgun that contained an illegal clip that held 13 rounds of live ammunition. The circumstances in which that seizure occurred involves some of the most remarkable police work that the city has seen. The sergeant in charge that night had information from a witness that a particular individual had been involved in a fight at one of the bars in town and had stated to someone that he was going to return to ‘shoot the place up,’” Montagnino said.  A police sergeant was given a description of the vehicle in question, which had license plates from the state of Mississippi. 

“A car with Mississippi plates was pulled over on the corner of Spring and Circular (streets) because the driver was driving erratically and without headlights. The sergeant, in the words of the bar owner, ‘peeled out and raced over there.’ He was able to signal to the officers at the scene that there was a possible weapon in the possession of the driver,” Montagnino said.  The weapon was secured and the driver – who had a previously violent felony conviction in Mississippi, Montagnino said - was arrested without incident. 

During 2021, members of the Saratoga Springs Police Department responded to 27,784 calls for service. The largest average call volume occurred Friday evening into Saturday morning and Saturday evening into Sunday morning. Officers generated 3897 cases that resulted in 922 arrests. Of the individuals arrested, 55% were not residents of the city of Saratoga Springs.

“The on-the-ground police work that resulted in this arrest prevented what I believe would likely have been a mass shooting. The safety of this city depends in large part on the skill, training and number of uniformed police officers who are doing their jobs day-in and day-out on the street,” the commissioner said. “Despite that we are a ‘weekend town,’ and that much of the crime that involves visitors coming to the city occurs on the weekends, not one sworn officer above the rank of sergeant is on duty on Saturday or Sunday without being called in specifically for that purpose.” In all, he counted approximately 40% of the department’s sworn officers who do not work weekends. The goal of the program is to put more officers in locations at times most needed, he said. 

The Saratoga Springs Police Department ended the 2021 calendar year with several vacant positions. Currently the department is staffes with a chief, assistant chief, 4 lieutenants, 11 sergeants, 11 investigators, and 39 patrol officers. Patrol officers are divided into 12-hour shifts. Two officers are K-9 handlers, one K9 being a dual purpose patrol and narcotics detection K9 and the other being an explosive detection K9. Two patrol officers are recent Law Enforcement Academy graduates and currently in the fieldtraining program. The department currently has 9 full time dispatchers, 2 civilian employees and 3 parking enforcement officers, one of which is also the animal control officer.

The FBI 2019 Crime in the United States Report states law enforcement agencies in the North East have an average number of 2.8 full-time sworn law enforcement officers per 1000 inhabitants, placing the department below the average staffing level, according to the Public Safety Department annual report.  

Phase One of the patrol initiative plan involves redirecting funds currently used for the assistant chief of police position and was unanimously approved by the city council. The council also approved paying an invoice in the amount of about $260,000 to Axon - an Arizona-based company which develops technology and weapons such as Tasers and body cams for civilian, law enforcement and military use.  The city has a 10-year, $2.5 million contract with the company that was initiated last year. There is an option to terminate that contract, should the council decide to do so at some point.   

Assistant Police 

Chief Position

The assistant police chief position is currently held by Robert Jillson. Jillson was in attendance at the meeting but did not address the council. He was appointed full-time to the Saratoga Springs Police Department as a member of the patrol division in 1998 and rose steadily through its ranks. Three months ago, Jillson was appointed by the previous council to succeed retiring assistant chief John Catone’s position.   

The position will be de-funded and funds reallocated April 8.  Under the Civil Service law, Jillson may exercise his right to return as lieutenant. This in turn would displace the least senior lieutenant and place them in the role of sergeant - filling one of the three vacant sergeant positions as well allowing for the hire of a patrol officer, said Montagnino, adding that the Chief and Assistant Chief positions are “basically duplicative of one another.” No specific dollar figure was discussed, but the amount should be readily known at the time of the council’s April 5 meeting, when the finance department conducts its business on the matter.   

Montagnino cited the publication of the Department of Public Safety’s 2021 report as an indicator that the city “is as safe as it’s ever been. There is no statistically significant increase in crime over the last few years – and while there has been a lot of coverage of certain incidents – the total number of crimes and the total types of crimes have not changed to any significant degree from one year to the next.”

The Public Safety Department's annual report was released this week, although was not immediately available for public viewing on the city's web site.  Prior reports may be found HERE

 

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