Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Monday, 19 September 2022 08:32

Lew Benton On the Proposed Grant Writer and the City Charter

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

[A guest post by past Public Safety Commissioner Lew Benton]

It seems to me that every candidate for a city council seat and certainly every mayor and commissioner elect should do a few things.

First and foremost, they must read and become fully familiar with the City Charter. Not too much to ask, is it? After all the current City Charter is brief, concise and written in simple, easily understood language.

I note this because your September post included a discussion and comments on the the new “Grant Coordinator” title included in the 2022 Finance Department budget at a salary of $68,000.

As I understand, the Finance Commissioner, while agreeing there is a “ … need for more support with grant writing”, elected instead to hire an executive assistant. It is unclear from your post if the funding of the grant coordinator title is still in the budget or if those monies were transferred to the executive assistant line. Of course that would require budget amendment and thus easily answered.

All of this begs the question: If the need for a grant coordinator in Finance was deemed so necessary why was the title not filled? Which begs another, more fundamental, question: Why was a grant coordinator considered – whatever that is – so essential when, by Charter law, the City already has two departments, Planning and Economic Development and Parks, Open Lands and Historic Preservation, whose duties specifically require grant preparation and management.

And then, the most fundamental question: Did the then council review the required grant writing and grant administration responsibilities of Planning and Parks, Open Lands and Historic Preservation before it established the new title in the 2022 Finance budget.

The Charter is abundantly clear. In Title 3, Sections 3.3.6, 3.3.7, and 3.5.5 (see below) the role of each department is enumerated.

3.3.6 
Grants. The Administrator of Parks, Open Lands, and Historic Preservation shall, with approval of the Council, seek out and apply for private and public grants for the purposes and benefit of the system. 

3.3.7 
Bond and grant allocation. The Administrator of Parks, Open Lands, and Historic Preservation shall make recommendations to the Council regarding use of proceeds from bonds for park, open lands, or historic preservation purposes or from state, federal, or private grants for such purposes.

3.5.5 
Grant and loan applications. The Office of Planning and Economic Development shall manage and coordinate application for grants and loans for all City departments, and shall assist in the identification of grant opportunities and the preparation of applications. (My emphasis)

Attention must be drawn to the Charter requirement that it is the Planning Department that shall manage and coordinate application for grants and loans for all City departments. NOT Finance.

Vesting this function with Planning and its staff is (was) logical and typical at the county and municipal level. Planning should have the resources, experience and knowledge to identify and apply for state and federal grants-in-aid to address community needs (housing, infrastructure, recreation, open space preservation, transportation, etc.)

Planning has three full time planners on staff with aggregate salaries of over $220,000 plus benefits. The administrator of Parks, Open Lands and Historic Preservation shares office space with Planning staff. Her salary is $75,000 plus benefits. It is these staff members who are charged with identifying, preparing and administering the city’s grant-in-aids.

These two departments also can (should) draw on other resources, including the city engineer, and the Recreation Department and Office of Community Development staff in developing applications for infrastructure and associated program aids.

Past Activities and Suggested Actions

When the Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation department was first staffed it progressed an ambitious grant program. In the first two years (2008 & 2009) the department prepared several successful grants-in-aid including a state Environmental Protection Fund application to fund improvements to Waterfront Park, an application to NYS DEC to fund the city’s Urban Forestry Plan, sidewalk repairs, an application to Saratoga County to fund acquisition of the city’s Blue Way Trail head and, most notably, federal aid to build the Spring Run Trail.

These awards totaled in the $500,000 plus neighborhood. So, logically, I assume that the last city council – which authorized a new grant coordinator title in Finance – and the current council have reviewed the grant activities of the two departments charged since 2010 to identify what grants have been sought, their relative success and process of identifying grants-in-aids that address city needs and that are consistent with the city’s strategic plan.

Perhaps such grant histories can be found in Planning’s and Park’s respective Annual Reports.

Certainly the city should, if it has not, been preparing a least one state Environmental Protection Fund Grant every year or every other year, making sure that appropriate and eligible transportation improvement are included in the Capital District Transportation Committee’s Transportation Improvement Plan, et al.

Unless and until this is done and with the clear understanding of City Charter mandates and awareness of the major investment in existing staff already responsible for grants-in-aid, it seems premature at best to add staff to a third department to do what is already required of Planning and Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
09/13/2022

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