Saratoga Springs Supervisor-elect Tara Gaston. Photo provided.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – As Democrats crowded around a projection screen inside The Inn at Saratoga Tuesday night, there were occasional cheers among the supporters of city attorney Tara Gaston. Eventually, they gave way to tight hugs and shouts of joy.
In recent months, Gaston had enlisted the help of her husband, Shafer, a U.S. Navy veteran, to run a campaign for one of two seats representing the city on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. It was the couple’s first attempt to enter a political race.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday, it was clear that Gaston had earned the support of more than 3,800 voters, second only to Supervisor Matthew Veitch’s 4,524 votes. She expressed confidence that result would withstand the tally of more than 700 absentee ballots in the city.
“I’m looking forward to bringing in some new blood and some new ideas” and “moving the board forward,” Gaston said, as the Democrats inside The Inn’s banquet room celebrated her own and multiple other electoral victories.
Gaston and Patricia Friesen were among a slate of 12 women candidates—in races from Milton to Wilton—whose campaigns were highlighted by the recently formed group Saratoga Unites. Three of those candidates achieved electoral success, including Gaston, Mayor-elect Meg Kelly and City Court Judge-elect Francine Vero.
Friesen finished a close third in the city supervisor contest, behind Veitch and Gaston, by earning more than 3,600 votes.
On Oct. 24, during a Saratoga Unites “March to the Polls” forum held in the H. Dutcher Community Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, Gaston said her main goal is “putting sunlight on the board of supervisors.”
Gaston told the audience of about 50 people that she supports conducting a thorough review of the $320 million county budget to find out “where to save money.”
Lois Shapiro-Canter, a Saratoga Springs attorney, moderated the Oct. 24 forum. She said the members of Saratoga Unites would aim to endorse “progressive-minded women who want to preserve the rights that have been secured.”
In an email that detailed how many women occupy local offices at present, Shafer Gaston reported that there is only one woman among 23 Saratoga County supervisors.
“Women are tired of always being put in the back seat,” Shapiro-Canter said. “We have a whole new generation of women who are used to the rights they have.”
WILTON – Though he faced an electoral challenge on Tuesday from a real-estate specialist and former teacher, longtime Wilton Supervisor Arthur Johnson managed to capture more than 56 percent of the votes cast in the town race.
“It sends the message that people are happy with what we’re doing,” Johnson said, when reached for comment about his victory over challenger Nancy Dwyer.
Dwyer, who ran on her own Public Servants line and was also endorsed by local Democrats, received nearly 1,800 votes compared to more than 2,300 earned by Republican Johnson, according to records provided by the Saratoga County Board of Elections.
“It is a victory in many, many, many ways,” Dwyer said afterward. “There’s no loss here whatsoever,” she added, noting how the 43 percent of votes she received surpasses by a substantial margin the percentage of registered Democrats in Wilton.
Dwyer was among a group of 12 women running for local offices who were in league with the recently formed group Saratoga Unites, which aims to diversify all levels of government by supporting “progressive” women candidates.
Dwyer pointed to several election victories for that group of women, saying, “this whole area has been quite activated.”
Johnson indicated that he is aware of such efforts, yet still maintains his focus on the residents of Wilton. “We put the residents first…and put politics aside,” he said.
He did note how the majority of voters chose all of the Republican candidates in Wilton. But he downplayed the significance of that reality.
“When somebody calls me about an issue, I don’t ask what their party is,” the supervisor said. “I try to solve their problem.”
MALTA – Republican Supervisor Vincent DeLucia scored a decisive victory Tuesday over insurgent Democrat Bill Breheny, earning 62 percent of the votes cast.
“I will do my very best to fulfill the promises that we made,” DeLucia said, pointing to the cooperative efforts of the four other Malta Town Board members since his first election in late 2015.
DeLucia said he was “honored” and “appreciated that the community recognized the accomplishments” made in the last two years.
On Wednesday, Breheny said he wanted to “work together” with DeLucia because the two men share many “principles.”
Breheny and Cynthia Young were among four Democrats running as a slate. The candidates, in concert with town Democratic Committee member Tom Williams, issued a number of press releases in recent months after knocking on the doors of many Malta residents.
According to records provided by the Saratoga County Board of Elections, Young was the only candidate among the four Democrats to win, garnering almost 27 percent of the votes—or 1,996—for two open seats on the town board.
“It was a good, clean campaign,” Young said. She added that the political process works best when “different voices” are heard on the town board.
Fellow Democrat Tracy O’Rourke trailed as one of four town board contenders with 1,692 votes, or nearly 23 percent.
Councilman John Hartzell earned only 45 more votes (1,889) than Sharon Farley Schiera (1,844). They are both Republicans, who must now await the results of counting 150 absentee ballots to determine a winner.
Democrat Michelle Storm posed a strong challenge to Town Justice Steven Gottmann, earning 1,783 votes to Gottmann’s 2,009, the Board of Elections records show.
MILTON – On Tuesday, Milton Councilman Scott Ostrander won his bid for town supervisor by earning 1,100 more votes than his opponent, Councilwoman Barbara Kerr.
According to the Saratoga County Board of Elections, Kerr received slightly more than 1,300 votes to Ostrander’s 2,427.
“I just want to say that we assembled such a great Republican team. We worked hard right out of the gate and went door-to-door for months,” Ostrander offered in a Nov. 8 email statement.
Ostrander, a retired Ballston Spa police officer, said there are “a lot of good employees within our town,” adding, “I will utilize them to the best of my ability and I will give the residents of Milton my best two years moving forward.”
Kerr said she was impressed by the “respectable” voter turnout for her relatively “unknown” candidacy. After losing a Republican primary to Ostrander in September, Kerr ran on the Reform Party line.
The town supervisor’s term is two years, while each Milton Town Board member serves for four years. Kerr’s term expires in 2019.
She pledged to work closely with Ostrander in the months ahead “to move the town forward,” most likely by focusing on the town’s pending purchase of the former Boy Scouts property on Route 29; and by updating the town employee manual.
“I’d like to see everybody working together…as one unit,” Kerr said.
The Holiday Inn's exterior from Broadway and hotel General Manager Cynthia Hollowood. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – In the course of nearly 40 years, Cynthia Hollowood has enjoyed a front-row seat to many changes in the city—from inside one of its anchor businesses.
Hollowood, general manager of the Holiday Inn at 232 Broadway, started working for the company in 1981, even before the City Center was built farther down Broadway.
“Local businesses are the bread and butter here,” she said, during an interview this week to discuss the Holiday Inn’s recent $4 million renovation.
She called the Holiday Inn, which celebrated its 50-year anniversary in 2015, “the catalyst for all downtown development.”
“We are proud to have been at the forefront of Saratoga Springs’ revival over 53 years ago, and to remain so today as the city has blossomed to a year-round destination,” Hollowood said in a Nov. 1 statement.
The hospitality market of Saratoga Springs has seen an increase of more than 500 rooms in the last three years, according to Hollowood, which poses challenges in terms of keeping the Holiday Inn’s 168 rooms occupied.
“That’s why we have this brand new look, to stay competitive,” she said. “The market is ever-changing.”
On Election Day, while the popular restaurant and bar Bookmakers went dark on an otherwise quiet Tuesday night, Saratoga County’s Republicans utilized the hotel’s 8,500 square feet of convention space as a gathering spot to await official election results.
Bill Teator, a principal of G-Force Consulting, said a number of factors ensure the long-term success of Broadway’s “community legacy,” including its dedicated employees.
Hollowood reported that four of the Holiday Inn’s 110 employees have served longer than her, while another 20 people have worked there for nearly 20 years.
Teator offered special praise for the Holiday Inn’s designation as one of the first successful businesses to start as a result of “crowd-funding,” long before that was made popular through modern websites such as GoFundMe.
In the late 1950s, a group of investors devised a plan to issue bonds for construction of a hotel and convention center, both of which Saratoga Springs had lacked at the time.
Hollowood confirmed that, in the early 1960s, $700,500 of “seed money” was raised through that initial bond purchase by the city’s working-class residents; an amount equal to $6.8 million today. Local banks provided additional loans for the hotel’s actual construction, she said.
The recent Holiday Inn renovation was completed by local contractors and funded entirely from the local franchise’s accounts, Hollowood said.
The Saratoga Springs hotel is affiliated with InterContinental Hotels Group PLC in Atlanta, Georgia “to uphold the Holiday Inn standards,” she added.
The draperies and carpets are replaced every four years. The hotel is also currently spending about $500,000 to replace televisions and other guest-room amenities, Hollowood said. Rooms at the Holiday Inn range in price from $130 to $400 per night, depending on the time of year.
Hollowood said many loyal fans of the Saratoga Race Course contribute to a “repeat factor” each summer, which bolsters the hotel’s overall occupancy rates.
The Holiday Inn’s “year-round average rate,” Hollowood explained, is envied by other companies in the upstate New York market, largely because of efforts by staff at the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Tourism Bureau to promote city events through the winter months.
“Our substantial reinvestment shows we are committed to remaining a leading destination in Saratoga Springs well into the 21st century,” Hollowood said. “Beginning with our founding when area residents invested $100 per share to bring the first modern-era flag hotel and convention center to Saratoga Springs, through today, we are proud of our legacy of community leadership.
“You could say the Holiday Inn Saratoga Springs was all about crowd funding before crowd-sourcing for startup businesses became cool,” she added. “We can’t wait for our many returning and new guests to experience our brand new look along with our renowned personal service.”
WILTON – With the Nov. 7 elections behind them, members of the Wilton Town Board voted this week to approve an $8.2 million budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
The three largest expenditures in Wilton are $1.7 million for government support; $1.3 million for employee benefits, and $1.2 million for culture and recreation. The spending plan also includes $900,000 for road improvements in Wilton, and additional funds for a town salary increase of $2,800 plus bathroom upgrades at the popular Gavin Park.
Supervisor Arthur Johnson praised town board members and Comptroller Jeffrey Reale for ensuring that Wilton does not impose a general town tax, which has been the case for 36 years. The town derives 75 percent of its revenue from retail sales taxes.
During a budget workshop on Oct. 18, Councilwoman Joanne Klepetar had discussed reinstating the funds for a town planner position in Wilton.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, Klepetar made a motion to amend the town budget to allocate those funds, following several minutes of related comments made by Nancy Dwyer, who earlier in the week had lost in her campaign to unseat Johnson as supervisor.
Councilman John McEachron voiced his concern about Wilton's low "growth rate," which he said does not currently justify spending money on a town planner.
"If the need arises, I'd absolutely be for it," McEachron added.
Klepetar's motion did not receive a required second, which negated her budget amendment proposal.
The town board then approved next year's $8.2 million spending plan, with only Klepetar opposed.
Photo by www.photoandgraphic.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A $6 million project at Saratoga Hospital to install a new linear accelerator machine, as part of a wider expansion of its Radiation Oncology Center (ROC), has received city approvals but may not begin until spring 2018.
Kevin Ronayne, vice president of operations and facilities at Saratoga Hospital, indicated by email this week that finalizing the required state approvals for the project seems “more and more unlikely” as the month of November proceeds. Ronayne said he expects the work to begin next March or April, and to finish nearly six months later.
Every day, more than 40 patients receive cancer treatment at the main ROC location on Church Street or related off-site facilities.
Ronayne said Albany-based AOW Associates, which has completed projects at the Wesley Community as well, would be the construction manager and general contractor for the $6 million ROC project.
Front photo: A crowd listens intently to Stephan Wolfert on the final night of his "De-Cruit" program in Ballston Spa. In gallery photos (left to right): Veteran Steve Cipitelli reads from his prepared script; a De-Cruit particpant with Shakespeare in hand; and Wolfert offering some remarks. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com.
BALLSTON SPA – On a balmy Thursday night for late October, Stephan Wolfert advised everyone in the small room to act as people do after leaving a popular gambling city in Nevada, whose unofficial motto is ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’
“We’re asking you to remember that this is part of a healing program, so hollering at the grocery store, ‘Hey! You were the one that talked about such and such.’ Not preferable,” Wolfert said. “The idea is to hold this space for the people who are coming up here to speak in front of you.”
Wolfert, a U.S. Army veteran and positively energetic actor, was giving a few introductory remarks on the final night of his “De-Cruit” program inside the new Veterans Peer Connection building off of Route 50 in Ballston Spa.
He found a way to control the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by immersing himself in the classic ideas and words of William Shakespeare. Now Wolfert devotes himself to reaching out to other veterans and offering them the same opportunity.
Every year, thousands of military veterans in the United States are committing suicide, in proportions that are sharply higher per capita than the civilian population. That reality has given rise to many different therapeutic programs, including De-Cruit.
Veterans Peer Connection Program Coordinator Amy Hughes said she first saw Wolfert perform his widely acclaimed show “Cry Havoc” two years ago in Massachusetts. Last year, he appeared at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, after which, Hughes said, she began coordinating directly with Wolfert to establish an annual event.
Thirteen veterans signed up for the seven-week De-Cruit program, which was created in association with academic PTSD researchers. It concluded on Oct. 26.
Wolfert prefers a maximum of 15 participants at a time, and this year’s event drew in veterans ranging in age from 24 to 83, according to Hughes.
“They can relate to each other’s stories…regardless of when they served,” she said.
Starting in September, Wolfert had worked individually with each local veteran, teaching them how to be candid about their own traumatic experiences in the military and then couple their memories with lines chosen from Shakespeare’s literary record.
He also traveled frequently, returning to his home base in New York City or visiting other small towns in the region to coach more veterans in the same manner. He was accompanied on Oct. 26 by two women actors who sat calmly in the back row of chairs, assisting Wolfert as needed.
“Here’s what we’re asking,” Wolfert explained, before yielding the floor to all 13 local veterans. “For you to come up, take up the time and space you need to speak what you feel and not what you ought to say…Plant your heels into what I call the toddler pose, breathe, share your truth and seamlessly transition into the Shakespeare monologue.”
“It’s an apology-free zone. We do enough of that out there," Wolfert said, gesturing toward the window behind him.
“For those of you who are family or friends of vets in here,” he added, “thank you for loaning them to us for seven weeks—and thank you for being here tonight. Because this is hard, showing up for stuff. There’s a lot of yellow ribbons on cars, but very few people are doing what you’re actually doing, which is showing up.”
Jill Hoffman was the first military veteran to speak. Her hands shook mildly, yet Hoffman stayed mindful of Wolfert’s breathing instruction as she clutched her papers and patiently proceeded to finish her difficult presentation.
Later, during a smoke break, Hoffman offered that Wolfert has a real knack for making people feel comfortable expressing themselves. She said the De-Cruit program should be expanded to help more local veterans.
In between the brief performances, Wolfert would make comments such as “I’m so proud of you” and “beautiful breathing, beautiful grounding.”
Jesus Santiago, who served in the U.S. Army for eight years and the U.S. Air Force for five, said “there’s not enough adjectives” to describe how much the De-Cruit program helped him control his own PTSD symptoms.
Military service can lead people to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Santiago said, which often explains the onset of PTSD in the first place.
The De-Cruit program in Ballston Spa is just one of many means through which local veterans are provided assistance. Wolfert even said November "has become Veterans' Month."
“We really do appreciate the participation. Without you, this is nothing,” Frank McClement, director of the Saratoga County Veterans’ Service Agency, informed the De-Cruit participants in his opening remarks.
McClement said the various programs that he and Hughes offer to local veterans are supported annually through a $180,000 state grant.
Usually, McClement said, nonprofit organizations perform much of the same work, but Saratoga County takes a more direct approach by enlisting the veterans’ agencies.
A separate trust fund covers additional expenses, McClement explained. “These funds go to veterans” and do not cover salaries or administrative expenses, he said.
Funds are raised through such events as the sixth annual 5K run that the Veterans Peer Connection organized on Saturday, Nov. 4 between 10 a.m. and noon in Schuylerville. (More details are available at https://veteranspeertopeer.org/.)
Hughes also coordinates coffee nights between 5 and 7 p.m. every Tuesday at Saratoga Coffee Traders on Broadway, which gives veterans the freedom to share military stories. She said 10 to 20 individuals show up regularly for that event, even in stormy weather.
“There is a program out there for everybody,” Hughes said. “I just want veterans to know they’re not alone and that people out there have their back.”
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A rendering of the planned Saratoga County public safety complex provided by David Pacheco of H2M architects + engineers; and (left to right) Deputy County Administrator Chad Cooke, Chairman Ed Kinowski and County Administrator Spencer Hellwig. Photo by Larry Goodwin.
BALLSTON SPA – On Wednesday, county officials presented a tentative $320 million spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year. It includes $20 million for countywide road improvements and $32 million for the long-planned construction of a public safety complex.
Projected sales tax revenue of $119 million will remain a reliable driver of Saratoga County’s favorable fiscal ratings, says County Administrator Spencer Hellwig.
In the last year, Hellwig said, there also was $786 million worth of new construction and home or business improvements, bringing the total value of property in Saratoga County to over $25 billion.
Yet “revenue from that growth,” he explained, is offset by “a greater demand” on the county’s public services; and further complicated by reductions in state aid along with the imposition of various “unfunded” state mandates.
“What we have to do is go back and reduce our operating costs,” Hellwig said.
“The 2018 Saratoga County tentative budget still maintains virtually the lowest property taxes in the state with no major cuts to services,” Hellwig concluded in his formal budget statement. “In addition, Standard and Poor’s bond-rating service continues to give us their highest New York State rating of AA+, citing our healthy financial position and low tax burden.
“At this time,” Hellwig added, “I am happy to report that the 2018 tentative budget is fully balanced and provides the services our residents demand while addressing the planning for our long-term needs.”
Stillwater Supervisor Edward Kinowski, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, said a months-long review of the budget revealed to him how “complex” the process of preparing it is for Hellwig and Deputy County Administrator Chad Cooke.
Kinowski said a number of “outside” factors are driving up costs, but that a thorough review of expenses and revenues by supervisors and each of the county’s department heads enabled Hellwig and Cooke to make the necessary arrangements.
The supervisor also expressed caution about unexpected downturns in the state and national economies. “We must never forget how quickly the financial tide can turn,” Kinowski said, noting how various committees will continue to review the county budget through November.
The full board of supervisors will vote on the final spending plan on Wednesday, Dec. 13, according to the official schedule.
A total of $32 million has been budgeted for construction of a new public safety complex on County Farm Road west of Ballston Spa, which was first proposed in 2006. The facility will help consolidate the administrative functions of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, a call center for 911 dispatchers, emergency and health department workers and probation staff.
The existing county jail complex will remain. Once the project begins, construction of the new complex is expected to last 16 to 18 months.
In his budget statement, Hellwig indicated that the property tax levy of $2.29 per thousand dollars of assessed value—a slight decrease from the 2017 fiscal year—is projected to yield more than $58 million in 2018, the second largest source of county revenue after sales taxes.
“As was the case in 2017, all of our property tax revenue will be spent paying for unfunded state mandates,” Hellwig wrote. “The projected net cost of these mandates next year is more than $60.7 million and will consume every penny of the 2018 property tax levy, plus an additional $2.1 million from other general fund revenue.”
He added, “Every year our Board of Supervisors travels to Albany to meet with our representatives in the New York State Senate and Assembly to urge them to work toward financial relief in the area of costly, mandated state programs that we are being forced to subsidize with no input on how these programs are managed.”
The largest state mandate involves Medicaid spending of $26 million, with the next largest being $9.2 million for county pensions, according to the budget summary.
Cooke pointed out that state aid has decreased by more than $3 million in the last year alone. It will be down to $27.1 million in 2018.
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STILLWATER – Four large energy-storage units resembling shipping containers will be installed next year in the Luther Forest Technology Campus, as part of a statewide effort to supplement the existing electric grid with alternative sources of power.
A Texas company, Key Capture Energy, announced in late October that it has received the necessary site-plan approvals from planning officials in the Town of Stillwater for its battery-storage units.
The four oversized units will utilize “cells” or “modules” and lithium ion to supply 20 megawatts of power to an existing New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) substation.
Dan Fitzgerald, the chief development officer and co-founder of Key Capture Energy, said the state’s energy grid “needs to respond faster” to fluctuations in electricity supply as more projects get approved involving renewable sources of energy, such as solar panels and wind turbines.
The installation of individual lithium-ion battery units is part of New York’s plan to generate 50 percent of the state’s electricity needs with renewable sources by 2030.
Pending further approvals from NYSEG and local officials, Fitzgerald said Key Capture’s 1.5-acre project in the Luther Forest Technology Campus is expected to be complete by the summer of 2018.
On Oct. 23, Stillwater planners conditioned their approval on the provision of fire safety training as well a letter of credit by Key Capture Energy. An additional 100-foot buffer from Cold Springs Road in Stillwater must also be factored into the final site plan.
“We are delighted to assist Key Capture Energy in advancing this next-generation facility, which represents a significant investment in the economic, energy and environmental future of Saratoga County,” offered Marty Vanags, president of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, in an Oct. 26 statement.
He is working with other members of the county agency to move the Key Capture Energy NY 1 project forward.
Vanags indicated that he is familiar with other types of battery-storage units, including the solid-oxide fuel cells that reportedly will be installed near the Home Depot in Wilton to supply that particular store with 210 kilowatts of electricity.
He also admitted to his own personal use of a battery-operated lawnmower, which captured the attention of at least a few people who approached Vanags to inquire about such a quiet machine.
The Key Capture project and others similar to it are “not big job producers,” Vanags added, but they do help maintain the state’s electrical supply and, in general, stimulate economic growth in local areas.
“You’re going to see a lot more of these…attaching themselves to the grid,” he said.
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