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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 SPRINGS – The League of Women Voters (LWV) hosted their second ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum on Tuesday, October 27, at Saratoga Springs High School. With one week before Election Day on November 3, this was an opportunity for voters to hear the contrasting viewpoints of candidates vying for important offices in the city: Saratoga Springs Mayor and Commissioner of Finance.
The forum, which was moderated by Deb Peck Kelleher of LWV, began with statements from the unopposed candidates for the two County Board of Supervisor positions that represent the city. Matthew Veitch (R, C, I) recapped the initiatives he helped to bring about in his year as Chairman of the Board, including funds for trails in the city. Peter Martin (D, I) reviewed some of the services that the county (such as emergency and social services) provides to city residents. Both candidates briefly touched upon their priorities for the coming two-year terms and thanked their supporters.
In the race for Commissioner of Finance, the candidates are incumbent Commissioner Michele Madigan (D, WF, I) and challenger Ken Ivins (R, Ref) who is a former occupant of that position. Therefore, both candidates had compiled a record in office that could be scrutinized by their opponent, and lets just say that neither passed on an opportunity to do so throughout the segment. If you wish to view a video of the exchanges, LWV has posted the entire candidate forum on its website (as well as the first forum, with candidates for Commissioners of Accounts, Public Safety and Public Works), visit www.lwvsaratoga.org.
In addition to completely different perspectives on each candidate’s records while in office, the two candidates expressed differing views on water connection fees for developers, the best plan to provide increased parking for the Saratoga Springs City Center (both candidates used their ‘red cards’ – providing them extra time to speak on a given subject - on this question), civility at City Council meetings, and paid parking in general.
In the race for Saratoga Springs Mayor, the candidates are incumbent Joanne Yepsen (D, WF), seeking a second term, and challenger John Safford (R, C, I). There were several points of differences between these two candidates as well. In his opening statement, Safford stated that he hoped those differences would be made clear. He made his case around the fact that he was not a career politician and hoped to bring transparency and civility to the office. Mayor Yepsen cited her two years of accomplishments in office, 14 years of running her own business, and articulated a record that was centered around balancing growth and open space and doing so in a manner that was both inclusive and transparent.
The candidates differed on a variety of issues. Like the Finance candidates, they had different approaches about the best way to satisfy the City Center’s parking needs; and they also offered differing perspectives on many issues, including the Saratoga PAC, pending litigation against the city, investigating the sale of a contaminated parcel of land adjacent to the city’s landfill site, the Mayor’s role in city government, the Greenbelt and Saratoga National’s expansion plans.
Clearly, in both the Finance and Mayor races, voters are being offered a choice. It appears unlikely that many minds were changed this evening, but that is really not the point of these forums. All the candidate’s supporters did have plenty to feel good about at the end, and if it intensified more people’s intent to get out to the polls next Tuesday, then all parties can agree that the League has performed a valuable service.
Having said that, and as a veteran of attending several candidate forums, I would be remiss if I did not divert to discuss the structure of these programs. This is not meant to be critical of LWV and the fine, often unappreciated and certainly important work it does.
Throughout the evening, candidates, unfortunately, had to entertain questions on subjects that were improperly vetted and therefore not germane – such as Finance Commissioner candidates being asked their views on the Mayor proposing a tax on rainwater (they both looked perplexed before responding that they knew of no such plans). Also, the candidates and the audience were not well served on those occasions where several people submitted questions about the same topic (which would tend to indicate an increased level of interest); these were attempted to be combined “on the fly” by the moderator.
The League is wise to choose someone to moderate these forums that is a resident from outside the city, as that would tend to make that person more objective. But that same strength becomes a weakness when they are less familiar with a given topic. It is also clear that the moderator has a host of other important tasks (e.g.: enforcing timekeeping) and this task, as well as screening questions for relevancy, should be the responsibility of people who have some knowledge about a given topic and still be objective. The result, on this evening, was too often a vague, watered-down version of the question – (e.g.: “tell me your views about transparency”) that end up being too generic to be useful.
Madigan Proposes 0.14 Percent Property Tax Reduction
SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 6, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan detailed the proposed 2016 Saratoga Springs City Budget, under which City residents will see a 0.14 percent decrease in their property taxes.
The proposed 2016 tax rates are - inside district: $6.0593 per $1,000 of assessed property value; outside district: $5.982 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
What this translates to, for a taxpayer inside the district with a home with an assessed value of $250,000, their property tax bill in 2016 will be $1,514.83 – a reduction of $2.70 from 2015.
This is the fourth City budget that Commissioner Madigan has put forth with virtually no increase in property tax. The 2016 Budget year is also the second year of the NYS Property Tax Freeze Credit. If the City stays within the tax levy cap and receives State approval of its Government Efficiencies Plan, qualified homeowners will also receive a freeze credit. “Saratoga Springs taxpayers can expect to receive both a tax decrease and a tax rebate”, stated Commissioner Madigan.
The total budget in 2016 will rise by $2,081,557 over 2015, to $43,841,077. The majority of the increase, $1.65 million, or 79 percent, is due to contractual wage and health insurance cost increases. The proposed budget offsets these and other increases with forecasts of a two percent increase in sales and mortgage taxes over amounts projected for 2015, bringing in an additional $1.43 million. Also, hotel occupancy tax is forecast to increase by $140,100; building permits another $50,000, and franchise tax (collected on local gross cable revenue) about $45,000.
The budget does not contain any potential one-time revenues the city might derive from the sale/lease of either the Collamer or High Rock parking lot. Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) aid was projected at the 2013 level, or $1.827 million, in anticipation of a potential impact of expanded casino gaming in the region on city revenues.
Four budget workshops are currently scheduled: Thursday, October 8 at 5 p.m., Wednesday October 14 at 1 p.m., Wednesday, October 21 at 1 p.m. and Monday, October 26 at 6 p.m. Each workshop will be designated for specific departments, with time allotted at each workshop for general discussion after departments are finished. There will also be a Public Comment period at each workshop.
Also, two public hearings are required, with the first to be held at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, October 20, before the regular City Council meeting and another to be scheduled once the City Council has made adjustments to the plan. Under the city’s charter, the finance commissioner proposes a comprehensive budget at the first City Council meeting in October. Through workshops and meetings, the City Council can vote to change the budget in November or simply adopt it as proposed. The council must adopt a budget by November 30; if it doesn’t, the proposed budget detailed last Tuesday will become the 2016 adopted budget.
The complete 2016 budget proposal can be viewed in its entirety on the city’s website at www.saratoga-springs.org
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, joined by Commissioner of Public Safety Christian Mathiesen, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, and several community members on the steps of City Hall Tuesday June 2, expressed concern regarding the appointment of the Saratoga County Mental Health Director Michael Prezioso, Ph.D.
The concern centered on a New York State Office of Mental Health January 28, 2008 finding of sexual harassment by Prezioso to a member of his staff from early 2006 to late spring of 2007 while they were both employed at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany. Additional concerns about current working conditions at the Saratoga County Mental Health facility located at 135 South Broadway in Saratoga Springs under the new director have been brought to the City’s attention by county staff and concerned citizens.
“We hope that the County will take the appropriate steps necessary to ensure the protection of our citizens and that all charges are properly addressed to ensure top notch and reputable community service to all,” said Yepsen. “Sexual harassment is never okay. This should have been disclosed.”
Mathiesen agreed. “I have three daughters, four sisters, and staff who should be able to work every day and not be harassed,” he said. “Mental health needs are not being met, and the last I looked, this facility is in our city and serves our city residents. All I’m saying is there should be a thorough investigation.”
Madigan said, “Dr. Prezioso has denied allegations of prior misconduct; however, serious concerns have been raised about the work environment at the Saratoga County Mental Health Center since his appointment. Doctors and clinicians have resigned, claiming that the facility is falling apart and that they find working with Prezioso untenable and toxic. There are suggestions that more resignations with follow.”
Prezioso referred requests for comment to Saratoga County Administrator Spencer P. Hellwig, who said in a prepared statement, “For the record, the County Director of Personnel has personally met with every staff member who has asked or expressed an interest in speaking with her to voice their concerns with the new Mental Health Director. Each employee was provided with a detailed explanation of the process for initiating and following through with a claim where they believe their rights have been violated… Relative to the hiring of Dr. Prezioso the Personnel Department supported his appointment after multiple interviews and a background check was performed which included verification of his licenses, education and prior employment.”
Here is Hellwig's full statement:
There has been an ongoing undercurrent of opinions being voiced by members of the public who appear to be taking a position based on limited information about what is being done or not being done to manage personnel activities and the delivery of services in the Saratoga County Mental Health Department.
For the record, the County Director of Personnel has personally met with every staff member who has asked or expressed an interest in speaking with her to voice their concerns with the new Mental Health Director. Each employee was provided with a detailed explanation of the process for initiating and following through with a claim where they believe their rights have been violated. Many employees complained that the facility needs to be provided with more psychiatrists. Grievances were filed by employees to the CSEA union in regards to the County actions to stop flexible time and the amount of payment associated with on-call pay. These issues have been settled by the CSEA and the County.
The demand for Psychiatrists is likely to grow and is a problem State wide, as fewer medical school graduates opt for careers in Psychiatry and many currently practicing are at or near retirement age. The American Psychiatric Association has concluded that the demand for psychiatrist is strong and the need for more psychiatrists will continue to grow.
The Saratoga County Department of Mental Health actively collaborates with Saratoga Hospital's office of Human Resources to recruit Psychiatrists for the County Mental Health Center. Center Psychiatrists are Hospital employees, deployed per the County's contract with the Hospital. Candidates have recently toured the Mental Health Center as part of the recruitment process and others are scheduled. The Hospital is working cooperatively with the County and collectively we are in the process of placing Psychiatrists.
In addition, Saratoga County is working actively to establish a Nurse Practitioner-Psychiatry position at the Mental Health Center. Nurse Practitioners may diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders, prescribe medication as indicated, and engage in triage and crisis intervention services. The addition of a Nurse Practitioner is specifically designed to enhance access to services.
We have seen random letters being written by individuals outside the department and are aware that Dr. Prezioso’s enforcement of departmental policies has irked some tenured staff members, but County Directors do not adopt County policies or approve the collective bargaining agreements that they are expected to follow and enforce.
The County has and will continue to work with administration and the employees to resolve any personnel issues that are enforceable, but we cannot and will not be a part to any course of action that violates any employee rights to operate in a fashion that serves the interests of the mental health clients or the general public at large.
Relative to the hiring of Dr. Prezioso the Personnel Department supported his appointment after multiple interviews and a background check was performed which included verification of his licenses, education and prior employment.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan reports that 2014 City general fund (operating budget) revenues and expenses have come in largely balanced. Unaudited year-end figures reveal small annual operating surplus in the amount of $91,082. “This is budgeting at its best. Departments did exactly what I recommended - ask for the funds needed and use the funds received. Budgeting is planning and this is clear evidence of a good and well-implemented plan,” states Madigan.
Actual 2014 revenue collected totaled $41,283,865. Actual 2014 expenditures totaled $41,192,783. “The City Departments did an excellent job managing their budgets and this will service the City and taxpayers well in the future,” the Commissioner stated.
For 2014, the City is required to have a unassigned, unappropriated fund balance between $4,175,952 and $6,263,928. Unaudited figures indicate that the City’s unassigned, unappropriated fund balance will be in excess of the maximum amount by about $1.54 million. City policy requires that any funds in excess of the maximum allowable amount be utilized, and the Commissioner of Finance is required to make recommendations to the City Council regarding the use of such funds, following an independent audit.
Madigan states that, as in years past, these funds will be returned to the taxpayers. “I have kept the property tax rate stable for three years with my recommendations to create, strengthen, and tap reserves; contribute to critical capital needs, such as infrastructure and equipment; plan for future retirement needs; and set aside funds to settle long expired labor contracts.”
The City has fortified its reserves over the last several years, a fact that has contributed to its high bond rating of AA+ and helped it obtain low interest rates on bonds for capital projects. These reserves and other designations will be key to future planning in the face of possible VLT revenue decline. “VLT revenue is currently 4.4% of the City’s operating budget. Losing any amount of this, especially as we retain the expenses of the host City, is a challenge that my administration has been preparing for. Using fund balance excess wisely has been part of those preparations.”
Both the Water and Sewer Funds also ended FY 2014 with annual operating surpluses. After carrying operating deficits for several years, these funds have been improving since 2009, and have made substantial inroads on the repayment of a debt to the general fund.