On November 28, 2023, the Saratoga Springs City Council held a special meeting to deal with the 2024 city budget, which, according to the city charter, must be passed on or before November 30. The budget proposal to move money for Risk and Safety from the Mayor’s office to Accounts and the lack of funding for a second City Attorney continued to be the focus of confusing and contentious discussions during the meeting. In addition it appears Finance Commissioner Sanghvi’s budget exceeds New York State’s tax levy limit, and she did not follow proper procedure to do an override.
The Rushed and Messy Deal Between Kim and Moran to Move Risk and Safety Floundered
I attended the meeting to voice concerns about the mishandling of Risk and Safety’s reorganization and the lack of funding in the budget for a second City Attorney.
I asked Commissioner Sanghvi why she was moving the money for Risk and Safety into the Accounts Department. Her answer was because Mayor Kim and Accounts Commissioner Moran asked her to. I fully believe that that is why she did it. Commissioner Sanghvi seems legitimately ignorant of the inadequacy of this answer. It apparently never occurred to her to consider whether this was in the city’s best interest and to have a public discussion at the Council table about this before acquiescing to their request . Just because Kim and Moran want something does not necessarily make whatever they want a great idea.
Mayor Kim made an odd argument to defend his support of the move. According to Kim (see video), he supports moving Risk and Safety out of his office because the citizens voted in support of that in the last election. An incredulous Jane Weihe went to the microphone to verify that the Mayor had actually said this. The Mayor doubled down.
In the end Commissioner Sanghvi’s effort to help Mayor Kim and Commissioner Moran reorganize the city’s handling of Risk and Safety was temporarily derailed.
The problem was the Council had passed a resolution in August of 2022 that explicitly moved Risk and Safety into the Mayor’s office. It was improper for Sanghvi to ignore that resolution and think she could relocate those responsibilities simply by moving money around in her budget.
Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub pointed out that this was a problem (see video). He noted that until the Council formally nullified the existing resolution passed by the Council that assigned Risk and Safety to the Mayor’s office, it would be premature to establish funding for it in the Accounts Department.
Golub’s opinion prevailed (Sanghvi’s frustration with this was evident), and the Council passed a last-minute amendment to the budget that moved the money for Risk and Safety back to the Mayor’s office.
Unfortunately, Kim, Moran, and Sanghvi merely planned to put a resolution on the agenda for the next Council meeting on December 5 to rescind the Council’s 2022 resolution and then move the money around again after that was done-something that can’t be done until 2024, though. I will be reporting on the problems with that resolution in the next blog.
This is reflective of the chronic problems that plague this Council. They lack the interest and/or the skill set to take the time to think through what they want to do and how best to do it. This means they repeatedly end up using an enormous amount of time at meetings flailing around trying to figure things out that should have been resolved before they brought the measure to the Council table.
The Mishandling Of Funding for a Second Attorney
I also asked Sanghvi why the second City Attorney’s position had been defunded in her budget. The city has had two City Attorneys, except for a brief period under Mayor Kim, since 1973.
She answered by observing that the Assistant City Attorney was leaving on December 1, 2023, so this was a good time to deal with the position of a second attorney and that she had a “plan.”
The “plan” the Commissioner claimed to have was to fund the second City Attorney through something called an “assignment”.
An “assignment” is a procedure whereby money is set aside outside of the budget for future anticipated expenses. So, for example, there is an assignment to pay for additional police should public safety hire new officers. If there are new hires, money will be pulled out of the assignment and included in the budget.
Aside from the fact that assignments are best used for non-reoccurring expenses, this “assignment” has nothing to do with funding a second attorney.
The assignment Sanghvi referred to was described in the “Resolution to Establish an Assignment for Liability for Legal Expense.” A careful reading of this resolution reveals that it is about setting aside money to cover the legal costs for outside counsel for city officials and employees should they be sued over activities associated with their official duties. It sets aside $200,000.00.
In her remarks, Sanghvi took the opportunity to recite once more the bills the city has had to pay for lawyers defending elected officials and employees snared by the Attorney General’s investigation of the treatment of Black Lives Matter. This is a list that she and Mayor Kim enjoy reciting in order to try to shame the previous administration. I am stunned that Sanghvi understands so little about the language in this resolution that she apparently authored. I repeat: Nothing in the resolution is relevant to paying for a second city attorney’s salary! This resolution deals with contingency funds to pay outside counsel for officials and employees who might be sued.
Here is a video of her remarks. Strangely, her description properly describes the text, which has nothing to do with hiring a second attorney.
I am hopeful that the new administration will be able to find a way to pay for a second attorney in spite of the fact that the 2024 budget adopted does not include it. This is a stark example of Commissioner Sanghvi’s inability to manage the city’s finances properly.
The Budget Passes-Sort of…..
The 2024 budget was passed at this meeting with Moran, Sanghvi and Golub voting in favor, Kim abstaining, and Montagnino voting no. This budget, however, which raises taxes for the second year in a row, appears to have a tax levy that exceeds the New York State limit. According to “The Property Tax Gap Guidelines for Implementation” put out by the New York State Department of Taxations and New York State Department of State:
Local governments may override the tax levy limit only by first passing a local law that allows for the tax levy limit to be exceeded…The override vote must precede the vote on adoption of the budget…[and] any such law or resolution must contain language that clearly overrides the levy limit.VIII Overrides of the Tax Levy Limit
This did not happen.