Displaying items by tag: saratoga springs

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A cutting-edge center of 21st century global technology and a venue honoring the traditional offerings of helping those in need met at the intersection of Franklin and Washington streets this week in a collaborative effort for the betterment of the local community, and all points beyond. 

Elliott and Cathy Masie built the Masie Center on the east side of Saratoga Springs 20 years ago. This week, Franklin Community Center – which serves thousands of people every year locally - has purchased the Masie building and will be expanding their services. The new building, to be renamed the Michael & Stacie Arpey Family Community Center, will allow the Franklin the space it has needed to grow their programs.   

Franklin Community Center has served as a social service hub for the less fortunate in and around Saratoga since 1983.

The Center's programs include a food pantry, a free after-school prevention program for local students and affordable housing for low-income individuals, as well as assisting with furniture, clothing and household needs, among others. 

“At the beginning of 2019, our board really committed to obtaining more space,” explains FCC Executive Director Kari Cushing.  “We were at a point where the space didn’t provide confidentiality for the people we serve.” A fundraising campaign was initiated with the idea of building an addition to an existing building to create more space. 

“We were in the middle of it and had raised about $1 million toward our $2.5 million goal when the world stopped and COVID happened,” Cushing says. “We were no longer able to use our volunteers, so we repurposed all of our staff and since March we’ve been filling grocery bags, unloading trucks, delivering supplies and just doing what needs to get done.”    

At the same time, she says, the need for services increased exponentially. 

“The numbers have just gone through the roof. The need usually ebbs and flows and goes with the economy, but right now people are in dire need of just basic services. Since the start of the pandemic, just the food pantry has served 2,300 families – and of those 588 of them were brand new, they’d never been to a food pantry before. Those numbers are staggering,” she said. 

“In September. I looked across the street and saw a For Sale out in front of the Masie building. It seemed way too good to be true, but we had to at least explore our options.” The building was listed at $2.6 million, and members of the board visited the location. 

“When I tell you it’s perfect, that’s an understatement. It’s wide open and we could do whatever we need to do with the interior space, but we were still too far from our fundraising goal. We only had $1 million raised and being a non-profit we’re not comfortable taking out a loan for more than a million dollars. Our Steering Committee met to go over our options and that’s when Stacie Arpey, who’s on our board stepped up to increase her pledge from $100,0000 to $1 million and make it a reality for us. The Masies lowered their original asking price, and a deal was struck. “Between the two of them, it became possible.” 

The Masie Center has served for a generation as an international Learning LAB working with global organizations.

“We’ve probably had tens of thousands of executives come from around the world. We helped launch E-Learning there. When the pandemic hit, I looked at my staff and said, ‘OK, go home.’ I gave them computers and lights and screens and after a couple of months predicted, well, we’re not going to go back to regular work soon. We looked at each other and said: maybe this is the time to sell the building. 

“After we put the building up for sale, Franklin Community Center was intrigued and one of their board members, Stacie Arpey, and her husband Michael decided they really wanted them to have it and gave them a million dollar donation to get to the price, and Cathy and I lowered (the asking price) by many hundreds of thousands of dollars because we couldn’t think of a better buyer for it than Franklin,” Masie says. 

“What I like about Franklin is that they service people who have deep and continuing needs as well as people who have newly arrived at the point of need,” Masie says. “I think we need to be quick to respond to people when they enter that and help put them on a pathway to becoming more self-sustaining. And Franklin does that. The other thing is they work a lot with kids.” 

For Masie, the present world continues via video, having conducted keynotes for tens of thousands of people during the pandemic, right from his piano room at home in Saratoga Springs. 

“They do so much in that cramped building they’re in now – to have that 10,000 square feet of space, it’s going to be exciting to see what they can do,” said Masie, who conducted a walk-through with FCC staff this week.

“This new home for FCC will help ensure that families in Saratoga Springs having an inviting place to receive the resources of FCC for years to come,” Stacie Arpey said in a statement.

The transition will happen gradually allowing FCC to ensure there are no disruptions to the services provided. The plan is to maintain the current venues and begin adapting some of the organization’s programs into the new venue. “In the beginning of 2021 our goal as a Board will be to really delve into that and see how we can be more efficient and make things easier to access for the folks who use our services. We want to make sure that we make things better for Franklin and for the entire community,” says Cushing, who has been with FCC for 18 years. 

“COVID has obviously turned everything upside down and has disrupted all of our lives, but we have a unique perspective: we get to see the other side of it, and I have to tell you how heart-warming it has been to see our community come together to make sure that nobody has to go without,” Cushing says. “We were scared to death when it started and we saw our numbers going through the roof. We didn’t even know if we would be able to serve everyone that came to us. 

“Every day we would post our biggest needs on social media and we have a contactless drop-off in the front of our building and every day when we would come in, it would be overflowing with the things we had asked for. We never had to turn anybody away, because people were so generous. This community is absolutely amazing. I think Stacie and Mike embody everything hat our community is and Cathy and Elliott – everybody made it possible, it’s such a group effort and it’s wonderful to see.” 

The Michael and Stacie Arpey Family Community Center /Franklin Community Center is in fundraising mode and need just under $1 million to complete their expansion campaign which would include costs for moving and potential renovations to the space.  For more information or to contribute to the campaign go to:   www.franklincommunitycenter.org.

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — For the 15th consecutive year, the Skidmore College community has come together to assist local residents and families through the Skidmore Cares community service program. 

This year, Skidmore faculty, staff and students donated nearly 3,000 food items and more than 3,400 school supplies and personal care items - including 2,130 face masks - for Saratoga County community organizations. In addition, monetary donations to Skidmore Cares and community agencies totaled nearly $800. 

To help ensure the health and safety of all involved, the annual campus-wide event was modified this year, encouraging individuals to drop off donations at outdoor locations on campus in early November. 

Skidmore employees organized and delivered the contributions to 10 local community service agencies: Shelters of Saratoga, Franklin Community Center, Mary’s Haven, Saratoga Economic Opportunity Council, Wellspring, Corinth Central School District, Saratoga Springs City School District PATHS, the Latino Advocacy Program, the Salvation Army and Saratoga Center for the Family. 

The donations come at a critical time for local residents and agencies facing challenges created or intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Founded in 2006, Skidmore Cares has now raised more than $122,000 for community causes and distributed nearly 60,000 food, personal care and school supplies items. 

Published in Education

SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the clock ticking to a midnight deadline that would have installed what Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan called a “skeletal budget” as proposed in October, the City Council Nov. 30  staged a Special Meeting during which it unanimously approved a less austere 2021 budget that maintains essential city services and preserves city jobs and salaries. 

The initial budget proposed in October was set at $41.9 million – a $7 million reduction to the 2019 plan. The amended 2021 budget approved this week calls for a $46.2 million spending plan. It may be further amended after Jan. 1, 2021. 

The plan calls for a 6% property tax increase, meaning a home assessed at $200,000 will require an additional payment of $72 annually; a home assessed at $400,000 will see an annual payment increase of $144.   

Commissioner Madigan said with a vaccine seemingly on the horizon, she is feeling “optimistic” about at least some form of tourism returning to the Spa City next year.

• The city announced a COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program Application period opens Dec. 7, with 25 to 51 grants of $5,000 - $10,000 to be awarded. Funds may be used for: payroll, rent or mortgage, utilities, equipment to facilitate the outdoor conduct of business during winter months, or supplies and equipment that reduce risk of coronavirus transmission.

Grant recipients must preserve at least 1 FTE job held by a low-income person - designated as less than  $33,950/year -  for at least six months.

The COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program, administered locally by the City’s Office of Community Development (OCD), was funded by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. All applicants must agree to federal program requirements. For full guidelines, eligibility information, and application forms go to: saratoga-springs.org. 

• The comment period for Draft 2 of the UDO has been extended and the public is invited to submit comments through Friday, Dec. 11. 

Members of the City’s UDO project team led six public Q&A sessions during the 60-plus days that Draft 2 has been available for review.  Draft 2 documents and maps, including video recordings and presentation slides, are available on the UDO web page on the city’s website for review.    

It is anticipated that a final draft of the UDO will be released and submitted to the County and City Land Use Boards for advisory opinions, prior to being presented to Council for a vote during the first quarter of 2021.

• A meeting of the Police Reform Task Force will be held at Saratoga Music Hall and livestreamed on the city website at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9. 

Published in News
Thursday, 22 October 2020 12:42

Charter Change Insider

Charter VoteNo

Changing from our current Commission form of government to the proposed City Manager + Wards system would be an undesirable change for Saratoga Springs at any time. To do that now in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis is folly and even dangerous. The commission form has helped Saratoga Springs be the most successful city in upstate New York. It allows all city voters to choose city residents every two years who will both make policy and also act as department heads delivering services. Elected officials are held directly accountable by the electorate for services provided to the city. 

In addition, because they run departments, council members are highly knowledgeable about the workings of the city when they make policy decisions. Since departments have many intersecting needs and interests and a majority is necessary to pass laws and the city budget, excellent communication and cooperation are major features of this form of government.

In contrast the charter proposal offers a plan that gives the authority to run the city to an unelected city manager who doesn’t even have to live in the city. The city will be divided into wards and Saratogians will only be able to vote for the mayor and one of the six other council members, greatly reducing citizens’ say in their government. The proposal also has a weak mayor who has few responsibilities and cannot even give any employee direction.

Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system.

The responsibilities of the mayor and four commissioners are clearly laid out in the current charter and easily understood: Mayor and Departments of Accounts, Public Safety, Finance, and Public Works. When someone has an issue or opportunity, they simply contact the appropriate commissioner. In short, no one has any idea about the potential new City Manager organization, how it will be structured, nor what it will cost.

Only four positions are mentioned in the proposed charter: the city manager, attorney, clerk, and assessor. The charter change financial analysis claims that one City Manager can replace four commissioners and five deputies, about 18,000 hours of work yearly. 

But Ron Kim, co-chair of the charter change effort, thought differently when he was Commissioner of Public Safety and asked the city council for two deputies to handle all the work in his department, blowing up their current claim that this level of management can be axed.

Danger: The new city government won’t be revealed until after we have voted. The charter grants both a transition task force and then the City Manager the power to “establish, modify, or restructure City departments, offices, or agencies…” 

Net: All decisions and the real costs will be made by an unelected group of people and won’t be known until after we vote.

Q. A question of money. 

The City Manager + Wards System will be much more expensive resulting in higher taxes. Even the change proponents admit that a new city manager brought in from out-of-town would cost Saratogians $262,000 yearly. 

Then they increased the Mayor’s salary 448% to $65,000 plus benefits for a significantly easier job that excludes all administrative responsibilities. Compare this to the $19,000 average salary of a Mayor in New York State in cities run by a City Manager. (Source: Jeff Altamari). Even proponent ‘It’s Time Saratoga’ admits that the Mayor will receive this $65,000 for a part time job; saying the Mayor could concurrently hold another job. That doesn’t show much respect for taxpayers.

But wait, it gets worse. The pro-charter group has not disclosed to the public the real cost of a City Manager + Wards government. Their so-called financials leave out $760,000 of yearly costs including replacing the Deputy Commissioners, our city’s key managers which they arbitrarily eliminated without even interviewing; an Assistant City Manager; and an Internal Audit which is required in the charter but was “mistakenly” left out of their costs.

Remember that the charter is only a skeleton concept with 4 employees which will be completed by an unknown and unelected Task Force, which is one of two transition committees which would be authorized to hire staff including lawyers. 

Transition costs are not even estimated by the change proponents. But any incremental transition costs during this pandemic will require firing city employees or increasing taxes. As both the Mayor and Commissioner of Finance said Tuesday night: The city has no money for charter expenses.The people proposing this change owe it to the public to disclose the real costs of this charter.

Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government. 

Currently, there is a high level of transparency about what our elected officials are (and are not) accomplishing. Since our government services are delivered by 5 departments including the Mayor and 4 Commissioners, it’s simple and efficient to contact the appropriate city official to address our problems. And every one of these elected officials has a report card every two years when voters can retain or fire them.

The City Manager + Wards charter is undemocratic, unresponsive, and not transparent. The City Manager who would run Saratoga Springs is appointed so he (we use the male pronoun since 83% of the City Managers are men) cannot be voted out if citizens are unhappy with how the city is being run.

We would only be able to vote for 2 of the 7 elected officials making decisions about providing services and raising taxes. Today, we have influence over every elected official because we vote whether or not to retain all of them every two years. The Wards system eliminates our leverage to impact our city government. 

The proposed charter creates a disastrous bottleneck which will keep residents from getting their problems addressed. Residents contact their Ward politician who can only contact the City Manager who, when he has time, passes the request on to the right department. The Ward politicians and even the Mayor are expressly forbidden to work with any city employee except the City Manager, thereby delaying residents receiving city services and answers to their questions. The City Manager + Wards system is less transparent, less effective, less efficient, and less democratic.

For more information, go to: saratogaworks.org. 

 

Charter VoteYes

The present form of government in Saratoga Springs is comprised of five departments, each headed by a separate elected official who performs both administrative and legislative functions. This system is inherently inefficient and expensive, leading to both gaps in and duplication of services.  A survey of 100 City professional staff in 2016 reported that they spend 30% of their time navigating these five “silos” of city government. Clearly, our city has outgrown this system. The proposed new Charter consolidates all administrative units under a professional manager. The manager would be hired by and be accountable to the City Council, comprised of six neighborhood-based elected City Councilmembers (reflecting the Charter’s proposed six wards) and presided over by a city-wide elected Mayor. This Reform would bring efficiency to the administration, and accountability through representation and separation of legislative powers from administrative responsibilities. The proposal on the ballot was initiated by dozens of volunteers and more than 1,500 citizens who petitioned for this opportunity to vote.

Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system. 

City administrative offices, now divided among five separately elected Commissioners and the Mayor, would be managed as one administration—much like every other city, town and village in NYS--led by an experienced, professional manager. One team not five means less bickering and finger pointing. Clarity will benefit citizens and businesses who need answers from the city. The present Commissioners and their political deputies would be eliminated. But, the remaining top civil service professionals would report to the City Manager. The City Council, chaired by the Mayor, would set the budget, adopt policies, pass ordinances and oversee the administration through a short-term employment agreement with the City Manager.  Members of the Council, elected from the six neighborhood-based Wards, would be the “ombudsperson” for their constituents. This would allow the Council to set priorities that reflect the needs of the people, not the prerogatives of each Department’s political leadership.  The Mayor, elected citywide for a four year term, would be expected to provide policy leadership, oversight of the City Manager, and represent the city in intergovernmental relations. 

Q. A question of money. 

Initial savings would be at least $100,000.  This figure is derived by eliminating the current Commissioners and their political deputies, salary plus health and pension costs: $760,000. Positions required in the New Charter would add to $440,928, including the City Manager and Mayor (salary plus benefits), and six Councilmembers (salary with no benefits). Other positions included in this calculation are an Assistant City Manager and the cost of an Internal Auditor. Competitive compensation for these positions would bring the total net savings to about $100,000.  No other positions are required to be added or eliminated in the proposed Charter.  Any additions or reductions of staff would be made only by the elected City Council seated in 2022.

Long term, consolidation of administrative units under the City Manager will reduce the 30% inefficiency which the professional staff reported to the 2016-17 Charter Commission. 

The new Charter also eliminates the present lifetime free healthcare benefit (free premium, no co-pays) for elected officials who serve 10 years or more, which can cost taxpayers $500,000 or more for each such official over time.    

Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government. 

Voters in the six neighborhood wards will elect the members of the City Council to two-year terms.  Each councilmember would be the neighborhood’s “ombudsperson” for all functions of city government—in other words, “one-stop shopping” for people seeking answers from city hall.  Presently, citizens and businesses are punted from office to office for simple permits.  Public Safety and Public Works leaders have even disputed who is responsible to clear dead animals from the roadways. 

Each new City Councilmember will represent about 3,000 3,000 voters.  The wards would be drawn up by a bi-partisan commission after every decennial census.  If the upcoming 2020 census report is too late for the start of the NYS Election calendar, a backup ward map is included in the proposed Charter that would be used only for the 2021 election. 

Today, a candidate for city council (Commissioner of Accounts, Finance, Public Safety, Public Works, Mayor) must run city-wide campaigning directly to more than 18,000 voters—an expensive proposition. The new Charter enables city government to tap into more of our community’s talent and brain power because running in just one of the six districts will be much less expensive than running city-wide. 

No longer will Commissioners work almost full time and leave aside their day-jobs. The new Council will be citizen-legislators, bringing everyday experience and perspective to our city government. 

TERM LIMITS: All elected positions will be term-limited to 12 years.

For more information, go to: commonsensesaratoga.com. 

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The newly restored Saratoga Music Hall opened to the public last Tuesday when it hosted a city council meeting that featured the first public hearing of the proposed 2021 budget

The proposed annual budget seeks to adjust to a near $7 million shortfall, due to what councilmembers referred to as “this COVID economy.” The 2021 proposal stands at just under $41.9 million, compared to the $48.7 million budget adopted late last year, for 2020. On the table: a 6% increase in property tax rates – which would increase the property tax payment on a home assessed at $200K by $6 per month, or $72 per year – as well as potential layoffs and budget cuts across all departments. 

“These are very trying times,” Mayor Meg Kelly said during the meeting. “It’s $7 million short. We all have to take our hits (but) I think together we can all pull this off.”     

This week’s public commentary largely focused on the potential Recreation Department budget – a topic amplified as a result of an email apparently sent from the recreation department, and circulated among thousands of residents during the previous weekend that pleaded with residents to attend City Council meetings and budget workshops to express concerns. 

“Recreation in Saratoga Springs is at stake and we NEED YOUR HELP” read the email, “Ask our City to NOT DEFUND recreation.” Many did. With public seating limited to less than three dozen participants at one time due to COVID protocols, speakers briefly addressed the council regarding potential cuts to recreation programs then exited the building, allowing others who waited in line outside to enter and speak. The public hearing segment lasted approximately one hour. Members of the council warned of the danger of isolating one particular department and stressed the importance of looking at the budget as a whole. 

“There’s been a lot of misinformation about the budget and about recreation in particular,” said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who first presented the proposed 2021 Comprehensive Budget to the City Council earlier this month. “In this COVID economy the (emailed) communication lacked context and it lacked details and it lacked a lot of what we’re doing right now at the City Council… it was all over social media, and it was pure anger, rage, and panic, and that is unfortunate.” 

“We all, in our own way, have a personal connection to the Rec Department and the tremendous effect it has on children’s mental health,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who explained she has four children aged between 4 and 10, and realizes the impact of the recreation in the city. “I don’t want to set the tone here that we’re only out for who we represent. When you put out just one tiny piece of what the budget is going to look like and you play to people’s emotions to make it seem as if we don’t care about our kids and that that’s the first thing that’s going to go - it really sets a whole different tone for the budget season that I find regretful. The whole thing is we’re working together to make sure we have the best results for everyone in the city,” she said.  “What I encourage people to do is to go to the individual workshops to understand what it means to the entire city.” 

Budgeted expenses for the city’s Recreation Department have been reduced under the proposed budget, but not eliminated. There is currently $1.2 million in the budget, maintaining the costs of the Director of Recreation, one staff person, and building and grounds maintenance and utilities. “This means recreations programs cannot incur any additional costs to the city. It does not mean that Recreation is shutting down,” Madigan said. 

Madigan has proposed increasing property tax rates by 6% and to minimize the number of required layoffs, the budget contains a 10% reduction in all city employee salary lines. “With a 10% pay cut we can limit the layoffs, but they are still significant: 25% reduction in Public Works labor lines and 15% in Public Safety - police and fire.”  Basically, she said, a lower pay cut requires more layoffs, fewer layoffs will require a larger pay cut. 

“We all appreciate recreation and need recreation, but we all have to get together as a council and see what we can do,” Mayor Kelly said. “Essential services are always first.” 

“Right now, we do not have those essential services figured out. That has to be the first priority,” Commissioner Dalton said. “Water, sewer, roads, fire, EMS and police. Unless we can assure those essential services are intact – we have nothing. We can’t operate. You won’t be able to drive to the ice rink. We won’t be able to respond to a medical emergency. So that has to be our first priority as a city. Once we get those covered, then we can look at anything else.” 

The Saratoga Springs Recreation Commission is a 7-member board of community volunteers appointed by the mayor to oversee the Recreation Department. Mayor Kelly pointed to Recreation Department Administrative Director John Hirliman.  “We have to see if we can do this as budget-neutral and I have John Hirliman, who has always worked magic in this department, and as a council we all believe in his abilities,” she said. “I have great faith in my team to pull some programs together.” 

“We all understand the tremendous financial crisis we face due to the pandemic. I’m going to work my tail off to make sure we have recreation programming,” Hirliman said. 

Separate budget hearings are tentatively scheduled to take place this week involving the Public Safety Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Mayor/ Recreation departments. Visit the city’s website to confirm times and dates of those meetings, at: saratoga-springs.org. 

A second public hearing of the budget will take place in November. Revisions of the potential budget may be made through the end of November, at which point the 2021 Comprehensive Budget will be adopted. 

Published in News
Thursday, 15 October 2020 14:05

Chow Bella, Indoor Dog Park Open for Business

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Chow Bella, an indoor, climate controlled canine social club, has opened its doors for business. The dog park is located at 50 West Ave.

The 7,500 square-foot space consists of a 3,000 square-foot fenced in dog park that has tunnels, bridges and toys scattered throughout. The front of the store features a 2,200 square-foot retail space that sells premium dog food brands, beds, leashes & collars and even costumes for dogs- just in time for Halloween. There is also a small café & seating area where owners can unwind and watch their furry friends have fun with other well-behaved dogs.

In addition to the dog park and retail space, Chow Bella features a salon style grooming space with two on-staff groomers, and several self-wash stations. Hours are 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Mon-Fri., 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information go to: www.chowbella.store. 

Published in Business
Thursday, 24 September 2020 12:17

Excelsior Park: The Next Phase

SARATOGA SPRINGS — An expansion at the Excelsior Park complex is being reviewed by the city Planning Board.

The area of review is off Excelsior Avenue, located north of the VFW Post 420 in a wooded area bordered by Spring Run Trail.  Excelsior Park Phase 1 has been constructed and Phase 2 has previously been approved and is under construction.

The Excelsior Park Project currently under review proposes a mixed-use development that includes 163 residential units, 36,200 square feet of commercial space, a banquet facility, spa, swimming pool, and a 60-room hotel with a 200-seat restaurant. 

The residential component includes a variety of single and multi-bedroom apartments, townhouses and condominiums. The original application for the project was made in November 2017 and first presented to the Planning Board in early 2018. 

Plans call for the construction of three new structures – the largest of which will stand 50 feet high and 250 feet wide.  The Excelsior Park expansion is anticipated to occur over several phases and cover nearly 35 acres with a start date of June 2021. 

The group presenting the proposal is represented by The Chazen Companies - a multi-disciplinary firm providing clients in both the private and public sectors with a everything from land surveying, planning, and landscape architecture to construction services.

Published in News
Thursday, 17 September 2020 13:08

Battle Lines Drawn: Charter Change Back on the Ballot

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Buckle your seat belts, the battle lines have been drawn. 

In November, on Election Day, city residents will be asked to consider a change in the only form of governing that Saratoga Springs has known since its inception as a city in 1915. The last time a citizen-led City Charter referendum proposed change, which took place in 2017, a tense nine-day post-election period was required to await the return of absentee ballots that would decide the winner. In the end, nearly 9,000 residents voted in all and the referendum to replace the long-standing commission form of governing was defeated by a total of 10 votes. 

That razor-thin margin in 2017 was a continuation of an ever-tightening vote differential in community-led proposals for change: a 2006 referendum proposing a change to a strong-mayor form of government was voted down by roughly a 62-38 percent difference, and a 2012 proposal was defeated 58-42 percent. 

This time around, the proposed charter reform calls for the creation of a six-person council whose members would be elected from six newly created neighborhood “wards,” a mayor elected by voters city-wide, and the hiring by the council of a city manager. 

Last week, a pro-charter change citizens campaign committee called Common Sense Saratoga, staged their kick-off campaign at High Rock Park. 

“Why am I here today? When I was in office, politics was the primary thing, unfortunately,” said Ron Kim, former city Public Safety Commissioner and currently a co-chair of Common Sense Saratoga. “Each of the commissioners protected their own turf. That’s not the way I wanted to operate, but that’s the way things were. Everyday citizens would meet roadblocks for the simple things,” Kim said.  “It was open to those who were connected, who had their own attorneys, who had a voice through the political end. That’s cronyism. That’s not representative government.” 

The current “Commission” form of governing features five council members – one mayor, plus four commissioners heading the departments of Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, and Accounts, respectively.  Each council member is responsible for administering their own department as well as serving as legislators. In this council of five, each of whom is elected to two-year terms, decisions are made by majority rule. 

Kim said the change in the form of governing would provide more accountability, representation and transparency. “City wide commissioners who manage bureaucracies don’t, as a first priority, represent people. They represent the department. I know. I was there.” 

Saratoga Works - a group opposing the charter change and in favor of maintaining the status quo, launched their first gathering two weeks ago. 

Led by co-chairs Connie Woytowich and Jane Weihe, the Saratoga Works group argue a change in Saratoga Springs’ current form of government would be risky during a time of a pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, deliver an “expensive version of charter change” and would politicize neighborhoods by dividing them into wards.

Kim and the Common Sense Saratoga group scoffed at criticisms that a ward-based system would pit neighborhoods in competition with one another as being “cynical” and argued that the ward system similarly aligns with most representative governments such as Congress and Senate representation. 

Addressing costs, he said swapping the salary and benefit package costs of the five councilmembers and their five deputies in the current form in favor of a city manager, a mayor, and six ward council members in the proposed reform would provide taxpayer savings. 

Saratoga Works argues that even as some city deputy or assistant salary costs would be saved, new workers would still need to be hired to conduct the work the current city employees are doing, increasing financial ramifications. 

The designated wards of the proposed referendum are as follows: “Inner East Side” Ward 1 -  Election Districts 4, 8, 9 and 12; “North Side” Ward 2 - Districts 1,2,3, 24 and 25; “Outer East Side” Ward 3 - Districts 5, 15, 17 and 22; “South Side” Ward 4 - Districts 10, 13, 14 and 23; “South West Side” Ward 5 - Districts 16, 18, 20 and 21; “West Side” Ward 6 - Districts 6, 7, 11 and 19. Each ward counts approximately 2,900 to 3,400 currently registered voters.

A total of 1,565 registered voters signed the petition to put the proposal on the ballot. If approved by voters in November, the measure is anticipated to take effect in January 2022.

The concept of a Commission form of government was founded in Galveston, Texas in 1901 after a storm ravaged that city, killing more than 5,000 people and creating the need for a useful way of post-disaster governing. It proved to be an efficient measure as well as a popular one. By 1912, 206 cities in 34 states had followed suit. Saratoga Springs adopted the commission form of governing shortly after it was incorporated as a city in 1915. Since its popularity in the early 20th century, however, many cities have since switched to other forms.

For more information about the pro-charter change referendum, go to: commonsensesaratoga.org. For more information about the group opposed to change of the city’s current form of government, go to: saratogaworks.org

Published in News
Thursday, 17 September 2020 13:03

City Hall Reopens

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Temperatures were taken at the door and mask-wearing visitors shared their contact information on a sign-in sheet. A scattering of chairs were set socially-distanced from one another inside the council room.

For the first time in 25 months, the city this week hosted an on-site public meeting at City Hall. The 1871 building has been closed since an Aug. 17, 2018 lightning strike and subsequent fire and water damage forced its closure. An extensive, multi-million dollar renovation project followed. The building has yet to be fully re-opened. This week’s City Council meeting allowed for the temporary opening of a side entryway and main floor hallway and council room use. The building is expected to open to the public on Sept. 28. 

City Council Meeting:
The city resident U.S. Census 2020 response rate is 63%  - “far below our goal of 80%,” Mayor Meg Kelly said Tuesday night. “Each child counted in the census represents, on average, $2,700 per year for our school district’s federal funding every year for the next 10 years.”  Residents who have not already done so, are asked to complete the census questionnaire at: My2020census.com. 

• The council adopted a resolution to extend temporary outdoor seating areas through Oct. 31. A previously adopted resolution allowing more space for restaurants to seat customers - as per COVID protocols – expires Oct. 7.

   

• Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced the city’s proposed 2021 Comprehensive Budget will be presented at the next City Council meeting, on Tuesday Oct. 6. The budget is currently working with $41.9 million in revenues for the 2021 budget – down from the $48.7 million budget adopted this year – a pandemic related shortfall of just over $7 million. “This is one of the most challenging budgets that I’ve faced during my 9-year tenure,” Madigan said. “Without assistance from the Federal government for state and local governments, and in particular for the city of Saratoga Springs, we are looking at large across-the-board expense reductions.”    

• The search is underway for a Public Health Commissioner at the county Board of Supervisors. The hiree will be, for the first time at the county level, a medical doctor, Supervisor Matt Veitch said.   

• The county is initiating a lease agreement to run Oct. 1 – March 31 with Shelters of Saratoga at the county’s building at 31 Woodlawn Ave. A portion of the building is to be used as a potential overflow location for the Code Blue emergency shelter. That main shelter is located on Adelphi Street. The building will also house a variety of county departments - employment & training, veterans, Dept. of Social Services, and Mental Health – to assist the homeless population, Supervisor Tara Gasto added. The county is seeking a buyer for the building, and the city is interested in purchasing it, Mayor Kelly said. 

• Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton informed the council she is developing a report regarding homeless and vagrancy issues on Woodlawn Avenue, which is anticipated to be presented at the next City Council meeting. 

Published in News
Friday, 11 September 2020 12:30

Five Points Market Begins New Chapter

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Some businesses shut their doors during the 2020 pandemic, but Maura Pulver, owner of Five Points Market & Deli, used the restrictions as an opportunity.

Pulver created Simply Food by Maura to continue her tradition of great breakfast sandwiches and homemade Take 5 Dinners. She also hopes to expand her business focus to private catering.

“Life comes with many opportunities. Sometimes I have even been fortunate enough to latch onto them, and while change can always be scary, it also brings new and exciting memories that we are not yet aware of. I call this a chance to Get to the Point,” Pulver wrote on Facebook. “I will only be down the street. I will still be making breakfast sandwiches…with some mad crazy additions. I will be adding additional Take [five] dinners during the week. And I will be catering. I will take some wonderful Five Point traditions with me and create some new and fantastic ones.”

Pulver plans to sell her breakfast sandwiches out of a commercial kitchen at the Saratoga Springs Senior Citizen Center. In addition to breakfast, she will begin a catering business and continue a popular take-out option she offered at Five Points, called Take Five Dinners. 

So far, Pulver has released menu details for Simply Food. Some items include: the Points Classic made up of two eggs, american cheese, choice of sausage, bacon or ham on toasted hard roll and the Blueberry Bomb made of two eggs, sausage, cheddar with a maple syrup drizzle on grilled blueberry bread.

The doors to Five Points officially closed Aug. 31 after Pulver had owned it for eight-and-a-half years. Just like other downtown businesses, Pulver had reduced her staff, menu and hours of operation due to the pandemic. She then used her extra time to create her new catering business. 

On her website, Pulver states that loyalty points from a Five Points account can carry-over to Simply Food by Maura. Free lunches on Saturday and Sunday will also continue at the new location.

“The support of the community has been so very generous, we look forward sharing this small gesture with our neighbors as long as there is a need to do so,” Pulver wrote on her website.

She added: “In a year of pandemic pivoting, I have arrived at a new point in my journey. Over these challenging months I have been fortunate to continue doing what I love…simply feeding my community. Whether our simple free lunches, deliciously simple Take Five Dinners and take out, or our creatively simple catered covid celebrations. I have been in my element.”

Simply Food by Maura will be located at 5 Williams Street and her website can be reached at simplyfoodbymaura.com.

Published in News
Page 13 of 55

Blotter

  • COURT Dylan K. Vella, 28, of Corinth, pleaded guilty to murder in the second-degree, in Saratoga County Court on Nov. 17. The charge – which also included three felony counts of assault – date to an April 7, 2020 incident in the town of Corinth during which Vella was accused of intentionally driving his vehicle into three motorcycles, causing physical injuries to one victim, serious physical injuries to two other victims and resulting in the death of a fourth victim – Paul Hollenbeck of Corinth. Vella additionally pleaded to one felony count sexual abuse in the first-degree regarding an incident…

Property Transactions

  • BALLSTON Eastline Holdings LLC sold property at 14 Timber Creek Dr to Bradley Gregg for $492,676. Manoj Irala sold property at 11 Timber Creek Dr.to Kumar Padala for $535,000. Charles Schewe sold property at 119 Ballston Ave to 838 Rentals LLC for $175,000. Volney Larowe sold property at 3 Lakehill Dr to Michael Cyrus for $195,000. CORINTH Sean Homes Excavating LLC sold property at 504 main St.to Anthony Villano for $190,000. GALWAY Thomas Shippey sold property at 5999 Greens Corner Rd to Laura Mancini for $405,000 GREENFIELD Valerie Bellon sold property at 70 Sand Hill Rd to Lauren Halligan for…
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