City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — This week residents of Prestwick Chase Senior Living Home received doses of the COVID vaccine.
As of Jan. 25, there were 18,116 Saratoga County residents overall who had received one dose and 3,083 county residents who had received two doses of COVID vaccine, according to Saratoga County Public Health Services.
According to President Joe Biden’s plan, vaccine distribution will be increased by 16% during the next three weeks. Most recently and before the increase was announced, New York State had received about 250,000 vaccines.
With a state distribution plan based on population, the eight-county Capital Region – of which Saratoga County is a part – receives 6% of the state dosages, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Using that equation, the Capital Region can expect about 17,250 vaccines per week for each of the next three weeks.
Through Jan. 27, about 1.4 million total doses – some of which includes second doses -were administered in New York State, about 96,000 of those in the Capital Region.
MALTA — Developers are targeting the southeast corner of Saratoga Lake for a potential project that would incorporate nearly 100 new condominium units along with a restaurant and other amenities associated with lakefront property in Malta.
Geoffrey Booth - of New York Development Group in Clifton Park, and Sophia Marruso - of Plan and Site Consulting at Ballston Lake, introduced a preliminary discussion of the potential project to the Malta Town Board on Jan. 25, during a town board meeting held virtually and attended by 70 participants.
The project site would feature new construction on property currently owned by the DiDonna Family at the Southshore Marina, located at the intersection of Route 9P and Plains Road near the southeast edge of Saratoga Lake and about 8 miles south of Broadway in Saratoga Springs.
The initial concept includes 96 condominium units anticipated to be approximately 1,500 to 1,800 square feet in size and at a height of two to three stories, Marruso told the board. A per-unit cost has not yet been specified.
“Although we have not defined a price point, this is certainly going to be an upper-end project, not a lower-end project,” said Geoffrey Booth, of New York Development Group. “I want the Board to know this is not meant to attract transients and to have people coming and going. The intent here is for home ownership and people who live in Saratoga and want to enjoy the lake.”
A formal application is expected to be presented “within the next month or two,” Marruso said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs hosted its annual State of the City Address on Jan. 26.
Each of the five council members and both supervisors representing the city at the county level were allotted time to speak. The meeting included a moment of silence for all who died during the pandemic. COVID-19 accounted for the deaths of 108 residents of Saratoga County - 38 specific to Saratoga Springs, to date.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the annual address was livestreamed via Zoom.
“There was a time when we thought we had (already) faced a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence: the lightning strike that closed City Hall in 2018 (and) relocated us to the Recreation Center for almost two years,” Mayor Meg Kelly said. “Obviously, 2020 unfolded in very unexpected ways. We had to pivot and work remotely, social distance, and meet in Zoom rooms.”
Here are some excerpts of the address. A transcript of the entire meeting may be read at the city’s website.
• The Saratoga Greenbelt Geyser Road Trail will soon open to the public and have a ribbon-cutting in the spring. The Geyser Trail is an 8-feet-wide, 2.8 mile-long trail that follows Geyser Road, from the Milton town line to the Saratoga Spa State Park.
• Renovation of the vandalized Civil War memorial in Congress Park is nearly complete and is anticipated for return to the park in the spring. Repair costs were covered by insurance; additional costs will be incurred for new security cameras and improvements to the site.
• The city delivered several new federally funded programs, including $540,000 in CDBG-CV funding to local service agencies, the COVID19 Small Business Grant Program, and the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program - the latter preventing homelessness for 13 Saratoga Springs households. More than $490,000 in Block Grant funding assisted 3,000 households.
• In 2020, the city’s three Land Use Boards issued 178 decisions. There are currently 96 active applications in the review process.
• Due to the pandemic and subsequent shortage of business revenue and state aid in 2020 resulted in much lower sales tax, occupancy tax, service fees and other city revenues, reflected in the city’s 2021 budget, which was adopted on Nov. 30.
• In 2020 the city paved 12 main roads and intersections.
• Future: a Broadway Master Design Plan was created via a partnering of the DPW and the Downtown Special Assessment District. The aim is to incorporate many ideas into one cohesive plan that recognizes the historic charm of the city’s downtown, while acknowledging the growing community and business expectations for public spaces. More information about the initiative is expected in the near future.
At the county:
• The new Public Safety facility at the County Farm Road complex was completed and is in operation. The county approved $350,000 to improve technology in the board room, support live-streaming of meetings and increased public engagement, as well as install Public Wi-Fi in appropriate areas.
• A new Government Review and Efficiency committee was established and charged with the responsibility of looking at all of the county’s laws, policies, and procedures, appointed boards and committees, and as well review each departmental operation.
• The County created the new position of Commissioner of Saratoga County Public Health Services, and Saratoga Springs resident Dr. Daniel Kuhles was hired to fill the position. Steve Bulger was named new County Administrator.
CLIFTON PARK — A local attorney and a retired chief information security officer for NY State have joined forces to form a new company aimed at protecting small and medium-sized local businesses from cyber-attacks.
“What I tell people all the time is that it’s not if you’re going to be hacked, it’s when you’re going to be hacked,” says Rick Cobello, who along with Jacqueline Goralczyk have formed Global Cybersecurity Solutions.
“There are a lot of large businesses that have cyber security programs. But if you’re a small business or a medium business with under 100 employees, if you get hacked or you get information taken, most likely you’re done, because you don’t have the resources to withstand something like that. What we do is offer those same services that the large companies get to smaller companies, but not for the large company price,” he says.
Originally from Niagara Falls, Cobello relocated to this region in 1974. “I helped start the high school hockey team and I was the first technology director for the Saratoga School District. That was at the beginning of Apple computers. It was rudimentary at best,” says Cobello, who has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise technology and security solutions in a career that includes local and state governments to Fortune 500 companies. He is also professor of Supply Chains and Cyber Security program at Albany Law.
A focus on data privacy and cybersecurity by partner Jacqueline Goralczyk, Esq., stems from her legal practice in banking and real estate. Goralczyk got her start at the law firm of Ianniello Anderson, P.C. in Clifton Park, where she worked closely with the partners and administration to grow and enhance their focus on security and privacy.
“Since part of the roots of this company have come out of the law firm, the strategy we’re going to identify is risk. So, it’s not just: you need new computers, or you need hardware, technology. It’s going to be you have these risks that you need to satisfy because your business is vulnerable. Here are your risks and here’s how you can fix them,” Cobello says.
The process includes evaluating informational, physical and technological security for small and medium sized businesses, deciding what needs to be remediated and creating a plan. Businesses also receive a cyber security playbook. “That will outline what we did, how we did it and what they need to do in the future.”
For more information go to: globalcybersecuritysolutionsllc.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A mass vaccine city site. A central online county information site. The creation of and the funding of a COVID Response support staff.
Amid the rapid flux of ever-evolving information related to COVID-19 and to vaccinations, the city and the county made strides this week to provide accessible information to the public as well as solidify plans for the dispensing of vaccines – in preparation for that time when vaccines become more readily available.
First up, the Saratoga Springs City Center was this week approved as a mass COVID-19 vaccine site. The county lease of the site will immediately kick in when “sufficient vaccine doses” are delivered to the county by the state. That sufficient quantity determination will be made by newly appointed county Health Commissioner, Dr. Daniel Kuhle.
“In general, we are notified about 24 hours before we receive vaccines about how many we can expect to get,” says Tara Gaston, Saratoga Springs city Supervisor and newly named as chair of the county’s Health and Social Services Committee. “I don’t anticipate that it’s going to be thousands within the next couple of weeks, but the goal is to be ready if that happens. Under the current state guidance, once we have the vaccines, we must use them within seven days. We have to be ready and able to move as quickly as possible.”
The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to the resolution regarding the City Center, which was introduced by Gaston.
“The idea is that it will be in the main hall. We have to work out the layout, but I envision temperature stations before people come in. Then you come in, check in at the table, get your shot and then you have to wait your 15 minutes or half-hour depending on whether you have allergies or not,” said Ryan McMahon, executive director and president at the City Center.
“It’s a month-to-month lease where they can turn it on for a month, turn it off for a month. I don’t think anyone thinks we’re going to (immediately) get enough vaccines next week. Part of this is the county’s ability to prepare. This way they can come in, we can set the room up, establish how they want it, get lines running for their computers and get all the infrastructure ready so that if they find out, say, on a Friday night they’re getting the vaccines, then we can be open on Saturday morning,” McMahon said. “We know how to move people through a space, particularly this space very well, so we’re going to advise and collaborate on a plan about how to physically do it, but it’s their show.”
The lease of the space at the City Center was authorized at a cost up to just over $49,000 per month. “We want to help in any way we can. In a normal year I would just eat the cost of this, but right now we can’t take on an additional expense. We have shut down operations for the most part - we don’t even have the HVAC systems on, and we’re barely surviving,” said McMahon, explaining the incremental cost to the county is to get everything back up and running, from the HVAC systems to the cleaning staff – whom were laid off.
A second resolution introduced by Gaston – also receiving unanimous support by the county Board of Supervisors will see the creation of temporary COVID Response Support Personnel, and a COVID Response Coordinator, who will assist the public health department in response to the pandemic. Those positions will earn a base salary of $22/hour and $25/hour, respectively, and will be filled “as needed.” The county set aside approximately $183,000 from its fund balance to fulfill those wage needs.
The county will also be upgrading its COVID-19 web dashboard to use state data methodology, in a mission to be less confusing and more accessible. The county recently adjusted the main page of its website to provide immediate access to COVID-related information.
“This is a change. Any information we get is going to be on the front page of our website in a red box, and it will change as we get more information,” Gaston said. The page includes official links to vaccination registrations, finding current test sites and other COVID-19 resources for individuals and families. The site may be accessed at: www.saratogacountyny.gov.
As of this week, nearly 3.5% of the county’s approximate 230,000 county residents had tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the epidemic, and about 6.5% of the population has been at least partially vaccinated.
“In the city of Saratoga Springs, we have 540 active cases,” city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton told the council at its Jan. 19 meeting. “The good news is the 7-day rolling average for positivity rates has dropped (in the county) from 11.3% to 8.8% - which is terrific. However, our hospitalizations have almost doubled in the last ten days; currently we have 106 people hospitalized as opposed to 51 ten days ago. This is representative of the lagging nature of these metrics, of when people get sick and then when they need to get hospitalized.”
In the greater eight-county Capital Region of which Saratoga is a part, hospitalizations – with 553 COVID patients - hit an all-time high, and 91 of those patients are in the ICU. New York State is separated into 10 different regions, and the Capital Region has the fewest percentage of hospital beds (25%) and ICU beds (19%) available of all regions statewide, according to the NYS DOH.
“There are not nearly enough vaccines to get as many people vaccinated as we want to,” Dalton added. “We get a tiny amount every week and I know people are frustrated getting access to appointments and having to travel very far – to Plattsburg and Utica. We know that and we are working on it. This is an imperfect system.”
Gaston expressed similar frustration. “New York State has provided directives to anyone who has access to vaccinate individuals. That tells us who we are allowed to vaccinate; just because you have been deemed eligible by the state does not mean that you can get vaccinated at your health department, or at a pharmacy,” Gaston said.
“Medical workers are required to be vaccinated by hospitals. Seniors are required to be vaccinated by pharmacies. And our local health department – Saratoga County Public Health Services - can only vaccinate people who fall into a number of essential worker groups that includes police, fire, teachers, front-facing grocery store workers. If you are a senior and you want a vaccine from our local public health services – we cannot do this at this time.”
Deviating from the governor’s directives can result in severe fines and penalties, Gaston added. “We are working as a county and with other counties to change this – to allow us to use those plans to keep people as safe as possible as quickly as possible, and I think it’s important people know we share the frustration. We all have to be patient but unfortunately we are restricted by these mandates which are not reflective of the long-standing work the public health department has done in the area of vaccinations.”
In addition to the naming of the Saratoga Springs City Center as a mass vaccination site, more than one dozen other smaller, unnamed venues have been evaluated and approved for providing vaccinations across the county and Gaston said among the county’s other coordinated plans - “going into homes, going into shelters, delivering vaccines directly to seniors” – are pending the governor’s lifting of existing directives prohibiting those plans from being enacted.
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week named Saratoga County Public Health Services and Saratoga Hospital as among the best performing in administering vaccines they were allocated. Both had a 100% rating. It is an important achievement moving forward.
As of Jan. 18, 13,442 Saratoga County residents had received one dose of COVID vaccine and 1,323 Saratoga County residents had received two doses of COVID vaccine, according to Saratoga County Public Health Services.
“We will allocate more doses to the faster, better performing facilities. Those that can vaccinate faster will get more of the allocation,” said Cuomo, noting the allocation from the federal government to the state – which then allocates the vaccines across New York is not high enough.
There are 7.1 million New Yorkers currently eligible for vaccines. At the current rate of allocation, it will take 6 to 7 months for those people to get vaccinated, Cuomo said. “The federal government must increase supply to the states now.”
The governor said he crafted a letter this week to the chairman of Pfizer, asking if New York can buy vaccine dosages directly from Pfizer.
Among the percent of hospital workers vaccinated: Glens Falls Hospital leads the region (85.5%), followed by Albany Medical Center (81.1%); Columbia Memorial Hospital (73.4%), and Saratoga Hospital – which has 69.3% of its hospital workers vaccinated. St. Peter’s Hospital - at 65.4%, Ellis Hospital – at 64.6% are among the hospitals with the lowest percentage of its workers vaccinated, Cuomo said.
The concern is that the lower vaccinated hospital staffs will be the first hospitals to have capacity problems in a surge situation.
“Again, facilities with slower vaccination rates will get less of new allocation. Our allocation is nowhere near enough. You want to maximize it, so places that can get it out first will get priority.”
The weekly vaccine allocation by the federal government to New York State (numbers rounded up):
Dec. 14-20: 170,000.
Dec. 21-27: 467,000.
Dec. 28- Jan. 3: 274,000.
Jan. 4 – 10: 240,000.
Jan. 11 – 17: 240,000.
BALLSTON SPA — Nourish Designs, an appropriately named small business which calls Ballston Spa its home, creates apparel and gift items featuring original hand-drawn mandala designs by Betsy Phelps Seplowitz. Every purchase made through Nourish provides meals for kids through the Regional Food Bank of Northeast New York.
Last fall, Nourish designed custom mandalas featuring Scotty paws and Scotty dogs – the school mascot – for each of the elementary schools in the Ballston Spa Central School District. Nourish designed spirit-wear collections for each of the four schools in a partnering with a local silk-screening business.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for about 10 years, figuring what my next move would be and it just kind of happened. I started drawing and doodling, started drawing mandalas. People were responding positively to them and thought I should do something positive with this,” says Seplowitz who grew up in Hoosick and eventually made her way to Ballston Spa.
“I’ve always been fascinated with patterns in nature. They’re all around us and a mandala, a circle with repetitive patterns, just spoke to me as my form of meditation,” she says.
A few years ago, Seplowitz had been asked to help with a new Backpack Program at her kids’ elementary school. Seplowitz has two children who are in the Ballston Spa School District. “I had no idea what it was,” she says. She learned the program helped kids who don’t have reliable access to food over the weekends.
“There is a program organized by the Food Bank that supplies non-perishable, easy to make food which can be discreetly distributed in backpacks to children so they aren’t without food over the weekend. The school just needed some volunteers to go down to the foodbank and pick up the food. I’ve been doing it ever since,” she says.
Nourish works with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York and provides funding specifically to programs which serve children. One such program is the BackPack Program which provides weekly food to school-aged children who otherwise may not have sufficient access to nourishing meals.
Her website - nourishdesigns.com – features dozens of wearable products for sale featuring the mandala design, and each purchase provides nourishing meals to kids in need. The meals provided to date number more than 25,000, Seplowitz says.
For more information on how these mandalas are feeding kids, or to see the current line of available products in the online store, visit www.nourishdesigns.com
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Eagerly awaiting a package in the mail? Patience please, says the United States Postal Service.
An unprecedented increase in volume combined with limited employee availability due to the impacts of COVID-19 have resulted in the current environment across the country.
“We’re still working through a great deal of volume, and like our neighbors everywhere, a tremendous impact related to COVID. When you put those factors together you do have what people are experiencing, which can be delays. And we’re working on that,” says Maureen Marion, USPS spokesperson for the Capital Region.
“In the Saratoga-Capital Region we certainly mirror the trends of the nation,” Marion says. Where volume is concerned, factors have included robust e-commerce activity during the holiday shopping season, a bump-up related to packages being returned post-holiday season, and people moving more packages in general rather than tending to needs in-store as they had done in the past, due to potential COVID concerns.
“I think people might be surprised in the volume related just to returns, which is larger (today) due to a new generation of shoppers who shop online,” Marion says, explaining that it is not uncommon for people to purchase multiple versions or sizes of products because returning items is an easily acceptable practice.
“People ordering things online because they couldn’t get things in their stores, or they wouldn’t go to the local stores. The home has become the dressing room and returns have become increasingly a bigger and bigger ticket item, particularly this time of year,” she says. Looking back to last spring, “by St. Patrick’s Day 2020 we were running at 40% more packages, easily. We were doing Christmas week volume for packages - and that’s significant because ‘package’ delivery is a little bit different tempo than ‘letter’ mail.
“Let’s drive through the mean streets of Saratoga: if I’m typically delivering mail a couple of years ago, I’m delivering to mailboxes at the end of your driveway and dropping off letters – boom, boom, boom. It’s labor intensive, but it’s quick. With the packages, I have to stop the truck, open the door, lock the door. I have to unlock the truck, get the package and re-lock the truck. Then I have to walk up the driveway, leave the package, go back to the truck, unlock my door, turn on the vehicle and go,” Marion says. “It takes a couple of minutes, but a couple of minutes times a hundred locations is two-and-a-half hours.”
COVID-19 has also had an effect on workers and policies. More than 600,000 USPS employees process, transport, and deliver mail and packages across the country. And the service reaches 160 million addresses every day, according to the American Postal Workers Union. It is a service that is vital, delivering everything from medications to Social Security checks, and it is the leading delivery service for online purchases, according to the organization.
Last spring, the USPS dedicated a COVID-19 Command Response leadership team to focus on employee and customer safety in conjunction with operational and business continuity during the pandemic. The protocols included mask-wearing, social distancing and updating cleaning policies in the workplace, expanding the use of telework for employees able to perform their jobs remotely, and maintaining steady communications regarding postal facility disruptions that may impact delivery via its USPS Service Alerts webpage. Those may be viewed at: about.usps.com/newsroom/service-alerts.
“At this juncture what you are seeing is staff impact related to COVID that takes on several different layers. We have approximately 7,800 active COVID illnesses nationwide; We have individuals who are then quarantined because of close contact in the workplace to those specific active COVID exposures, and employees who are quarantined due to exposure in their own families or other places outside of work,” Marion says.
COVID has also impacted some USPS offices both large and small, which have had to alter hours, as well as affecting processing plants and distribution centers. CDC recommendations suggest postal workers be vaccinated alongside teachers and those over the age of 75 in the Phase 1b vaccination process. It does not appear, thus far, that those recommendations have been included in N.Y. State’s 1B plans.
“In New York State this week there were 496 active COVID cases – window clerks, postmasters, people who work in the processing plants, drivers… everybody,” she says.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The New York Racing Association this week received approval from the New York State Franchise Oversight Board to proceed with improvements on the Oklahoma Training Track in advance of the anticipated 2021 racing season.
The Oklahoma project cost is approximately $1 million and follows discussions with Saratoga-based trainers. The upgrades will include a new base, improved drainage, a width expansion of the track where possible, and a plan for new safety railings – which specifically accounts for about $350,000 of that estimated $1 million cost. Members of the Franchise Oversight Board said they are working with Saratoga preservationists related to the width expansion of the track, as the project will likely impact existing pine trees that were planted alongside the track in the mid-1980s.
The Oklahoma Training Track signals the start of “spring training,” in advance of the summer racing meet at the main track located across the street at Union Avenue. It typically opens in April, although in the pandemic-affected year of 2020, a delayed opening pushed the opening to the first week of June. Last year’s summer meet was held without fans in attendance.
The training track has not had any significant renovation in 40 years. The project was approved as part of NYRA’s overall capital expense plan during a meeting of the Franchise Oversight Board held via teleconference. The 50-minute meeting may be heard in its entirety at: www.budget.ny.gov/boards/fob/index.html
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In this city, the guitars have all gone silent. Matt McCabe has passed away, COVID-19 taking from the city one of its most endearing souls.
“June 14, 1994. Flag Day. I started in a little 160 square-foot hole-in-the-wall space on Caroline Street,” he recalled with a smile, on a weekday afternoon 25 years later, celebrating a quarter-century in this city.
“That was my first real business venture. I opened with 48 used guitars and 10 used amplifiers. There was a lot going on and I’ll never forget it.” It was a week when he had watched his beloved New York Rangers hockey team win their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years, and experienced the buzz among all the other storefronts on Caroline Street as O.J. Simpson slinked in the back seat of a white Ford Bronco, leading a low-speed chase by police through Southern California.
A quarter-century later, he had opened a number of Saratoga Guitar shops, where he sold new, used, and vintage instruments, a plethora of accessories, sheet music, vinyl records, and conducted instrument repairs. For a generation he hosted The Capital Region Guitar Show – which became one of the longest running guitar shows in the country - drawing dealers, musicians and fans from across the northeast to the Spa City. On occasion, he made the time to take to the stage – “playing and singing with whoever will have me, me and my guitar compadres.”
The shop served as a musician’s meeting place, and he often played host for some of the biggest ones coming through town.
“Over the years we’ve seen Graham Nash and Stephen Stills, John Fogerty, Joe Bonamassa. Beck stopped in. Dave Matthews has always been very nice to us. Sam Shepard, the actor. We’ve met some nice people over the years. They come here, they love Saratoga and they like that they don’t get bothered here. We always take the low key, engage as they want, but you have to know that they’re working people too.”
As a young man, McCabe had fancied becoming a veterinarian or a baseball player. “Everything else since then happened by accident,” he said. “Thanks to family and friends I’ve been able to make it work over the years. The city’s been very good to me. The kids were all born here. And the downtown vibe is great.”
From 2004-2007, McCabe served as city Finance Commissioner. He was a popular member of the council and independent of any political party.
“You learn a lot about your fellow citizens, and what I learned was: how smart I wasn’t. At those meetings when people come up and speak – people from all walks of life and from all over our city – you see how varied our population is. When you listen to the public comments you realize: My goodness, how many passionate people there are; How many qualified opinions there are. And from people out there who are smarter than you. Just because you’re in office, it doesn’t mean you’re smarter. It was a life-learning experience for me,” he said.
“I certainly look back on it fondly. It was a challenge, but I thoroughly enjoyed working for the people of Saratoga Springs. I did my best.”