Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Thursday, 01 June 2023 14:01

City Sets Sights On 24/7 Homeless Shelter

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city received one response to its RFP seeking to obtain proposals from qualified nonprofit organizations to operate a temporary low-barrier homeless shelter in Saratoga Springs. That respondent is RISE Housing and Support Services. 

“The next step for the City Council is an award of the bid; If that passes then we would enter into a contract with (RISE) and do a budget amendment to pay for the contracted amount,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim said on May 31. 

That potential shelter will serve as a temporary one and in lieu of a permanent shelter site – anticipated to be decided upon at some point this summer.

At the time it issued the RFP (Request for Proposal), the city was engaged in hoping to secure a public-private partnership by June 1 with the locally based RISE Housing and Support Services to provide a year-round, low-barrier, 24/7 interim homeless shelter at 4 Adelphi St. The agreement was to be discussed at length and voted on by the council in early May, but the item was pulled from the table after the council deemed an RFP for the project would first be required. 

Several weeks later, the one respondent to the proposal eventually turned out to be RISE Housing and Support Services. The organization detailed $239,385 as the amount needed as an operating budget to hire, train and staff the program, as well as maintain the facility. According to the RFP, contractors were requested to submit an annual proposed operating budget. 

That initial draft agreement stipulated the city provide funds to operate the interim shelter from the date of execution to Dec. 31, 2023, and pledged sufficient monetary resources to fully fund the operations of the facility “for the 2024 Fiscal year and such future years as required.” Additionally, it specified that the city anticipates awarding a 6-month contract for the remainder of 2023 and a subsequent one 1- year contract with up to three 3 additional 1-year renewal periods. 

City Still Seeks a Permanent Shelter

The Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness is currently searching for a permanent site for a homeless shelter and navigation center and is anticipated to provide its recommendations to the City Council in July. 

The Taskforce was formed In February 2023 and was charged with determining a working definition of “low-barrier,” determining whether there is a need in the city for a low-barrier shelter, providing recommendations for a possible location for a low-barrier shelter, and offering recommendations on possible funding sources for the operation of such a shelter. 

The implementation of any proposed shelter by the Taskforce, however, is anticipated to take several months or some years to complete. With the recent RFP, the city is hoping to create a temporary shelter for the unhoused in Saratoga Springs as an interim solution. 

The Adelphi Street building is the venue that served as the last city winter-seasonal temporary shelter. That lease, which was $8,000 per month and involved the Shelters of Saratoga organization, expired April 30. In previous years of operation, Saratoga County as well as the State have provided some level of funding support for shelter operations. When asked in April about the county’s potential support of a shelter based in Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Kusnierz said: “We will entertain any proposal that is provided to us.”

Thursday, 01 June 2023 13:51

Saratoga Springs: June Special Events

SARATOGA SPRINGS — City Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran announced that the following special events will take place in Saratoga Springs:

Saturday, June 3, 2023 – TUFF eNUFF Mud Run – Prevention Council fundraiser obstacle courses (kids course and teen/adult course) at the BOCES facility on Henning Road.

Saturday, June 3, 2023 – Whitman Brewfest fundraiser for Saratoga Pride. This is a ticketed event with samples from local area breweries, food, music, and vendors.

Sunday, June 4, 2023 – Cantina Kids Fun Run fundraiser for Saratoga Hospital Pediatric Emergency Services to be held at Congress Park.

Saturday, June 10, 2023 – Annual Flag Day Parade hosted by the Saratoga–Wilton Elks Lodge.

Saturday, June 10, 2023 – Grace Fellowship Outreach event for Grace Fellowship Church.

Sunday, June 11, 2023 – Beekman Street Art Fair with fine art, craft show, street performers, live music, and food trucks.

Saturday, June 17, 2023 – 2nd Annual Cars on Union car show hosted by the Saratoga Auto Museum.

Monday, June 19, 2023 – Symbolic two-and-a-half block walk concluding at the Frederick Allen Lodge.

Sunday, June 25, 2023 – Saratoga Pride Festival celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride at High Rock Park.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City of Saratoga Springs has put out a call for bids in its search for consultants to collaborate with the city to define and create a Climate Action Plan.

The bids were initially scheduled to be unsealed on May 30. That day has been moved to June 6, at 2 p.m.   

The scope of services requested of the consultant include engaging city staff and Commissioners to secure feedback on planning aspects that impact various city departments, hosting a Public Meeting to present general information and benefits to the public, developing an inventory and gathering data related to city emissions, and Identifying climate action goals, setting GHG reduction targets for city operations, and finalizing a Climate Action Plan. 

On December 20, 2011, the Saratoga Springs City Council unanimously approved the Climate Smart Communities Resolution and pledged to be a Climate Smart City. The five-member council, under the leadership of then-Mayor Scott Johnson, asserted in its resolution that it “believes that climate change poses a real and increasing threat to local and global governments which is primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels,” and set a series of steps to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate.”    

SARATOGA SPRINGS — City Mayor Ron Kim announced that starting with its meeting Tuesday, City Council meetings will begin at 6 p.m. 

The meetings will proceed in this way: Call to order at 6 p.m. and continue onto Consent agenda, Presentations (if any), Executive sessions (if any), and Supervisors’ reports. Public hearings (on specific items) and the (general) public comment period will begin at 7. Continue with regular order of meeting – Mayor’s Department, Accounts Department, Finance Department, Department of Public Works, and Department of Public Safety. A second public comment period follows.

Thursday, 25 May 2023 14:03

Drug Bust, Deputies Shot

BALLSTON SPA — Six minutes after sunrise Tuesday morning, members of the county Sheriff’s Office Special Operation and Narcotics Unit assisted the DEA in executing a federal search warrant at 312 Foxwood Drive. The warrant relating to a six-month long narcotics investigation.

“The Special Operations team announced their purpose and authority and entered the residence,” explained Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo. “A person inside the home began shooting at deputies.”

The person inside, identified as 23-year-old Anthony Zaremski, was the subject of the investigation leading to the search warrant.

“He struck two deputies with gunfire, at which time deputies returned fire,” Zurlo said. “Mr. Zaremski was pronounced dead at 9:15 a.m. at Albany Medical Center.” 

The two injured deputies, who Sheriff Zurlo declined to name, have served with the department for five years, and two years, respectively. One was struck in the chest with a round that was deflected by life-saving body armor; the other suffered a shattered femur as a result of a serious gunshot wound to his thigh, Zurlo said.

The prognosis for both is excellent, he added. “The quick thinking and instinctive actions be the members of the Special Operations Team in rendering aid to the deputies – including applying two tourniquets to the deputy shot in the thigh - was nothing short of heroic.”

A DEA officer, who is also a medic, applied first aid to Zaremski until he was transported to Albany Medical Center.

Zaremski had a lengthy criminal history record, Zurlo said, including attempted murder, and criminal drug and loaded firearm possession charges. “We encountered a dangerous subject this morning when we entered that residence.”

Tuesday’s actions were part of an ongoing criminal investigation dating back six months and involve four search warrants in the Saratoga/Albany region.

“The seizures that resulted from today’s operation resulted in hundreds of thousands of fentanyl pills and ecstasy pills, multiple kilograms of cocaine and nearly 50 rifles and handguns,” said Frank Tarentino III, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York Division covering the State of New York. “The amount of Fentanyl pills we seized today is equivalent to roughly 60,000 lethal doses removed from the streets of this community.” 

The tally of seized items is from the first three warrant searches. Any items seized from the fourth location – where the shooting occurred Tuesday – are not included in that tally, Tarentino said.

Sheriff Zurlo said he would not comment whether anyone else was present inside the home, other than that no children were present.    

“This is the first time I think, in the history of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, that we had two members shot,” Zurlo said, at a presser held in Ballston Spa Tuesday afternoon. “There are no words to sufficiently describe how grateful I am that this is only a press conference and not a eulogy.”

SARATOGA — The Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery holds its 24th Annual Memorial Day Ceremony Saturday, May 27. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. with a cannon salute. 

“We’re going to honor and commemorate the service of the men and women who served. We’ll have a full-blown ceremony with a rifle salute, we have cannons here, music, song, speeches, replay presentations,” says Scott Lamb, cemetery director at Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, located in the town of Saratoga. 

Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery is New York State’s sixth national veteran’s cemetery and the 116th in the National Cemetery Administration. There are currently over 26,000 interments, which began in July 1999, over its 350 acres, 90 acres of which have been developed. 

Saturday’s ceremony will include Master Sgt. John Leavitt, U.S. Army retired Vietnam Veteran as Keynote Speaker. Special guests also include WWII Veteran Ken Bailey, and Korean War Veteran Paul O’Keefe. 

The ceremony is open to the public. 

“It starts at 11 and we ask you give yourself a little extra time to get here a bit early,” Lamb says. “It is a well-attended ceremony and usually 1,500-plus attend. It’s a beautiful ceremony and we’re supposed to have beautiful weather. If you’re looking for a very relaxing ceremony, to sit in a chair, listen to some songs and hear a few people speak and commemorate and remember our men and women who have faithfully served, it’s a great place to do it.” 

The cemetery was renamed after the late Congressman Gerald Brooks Hunt Solomon, who advocated for the cemetery to be in Saratoga. 

“It was originally going to be in the Utica-Rome area. Congressman Solomon advocated for it to be here, close to the Saratoga battlefield,” says Lamb, a Navy Veteran who served from 1990 to 1998. Solomon was buried at the cemetery Oct. 31, 2001. Three months later, President George W. Bush signed legislation renaming Saratoga National Cemetery as the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.

The ship’s bell from the USS Saratoga, CV-3, was installed as a memorial at the cemetery in 1999. The USS Saratoga was launched in 1925 and spent 20 years at sea, including action during World War II. An American gray granite memorial was erected in 2001 to honor veterans from Saratoga County. The American Veterans (AMVETS) donated a carillon in 1999, and a granite and bronze memorial was erected in honor of U.S. submariner veterans in 2002. The cemetery also has a walkway that features a variety of memorials erected by veterans and fraternal organizations in honor of events and fallen comrades.   

More than 1.4 million veterans live in New York and more than 225,000 reside in the Albany/Saratoga area. Many of the questions the national cemetery in Saratoga is asked comes from veterans inquiring whether they are eligible for burial there. 

“A lot of veterans don’t realize that they are eligible, along with their spouse, if married, and any dependent children. You don’t need to have served in war – you just have to have been honorably discharged and most folks don’t know that,” Lamb says. “There is some paperwork involved, and we encourage folks to look at that. I’m a veteran myself, and I did it to see how long it took. It was a very easy process, and I got an official letter back that basically says I’m deemed eligible for burial when the time comes.” 

When a Veteran, service member, or family member qualifies for burial in a VA national cemetery, they receive certain burial benefits at no cost to their family. “After you come through the cemetery everything is paid for by the government - that’s the opening and closing of the gravesite, the placing of the headstone or marker, the perpetual care, the maintenance – all paid for, for you and your spouse,” Lamb says. 

The cemetery in Saratoga conducts approximately 1,300 interments a year and has space available to accommodate casketed and cremated remains. Since 1999, the cemetery counts a total of about 26,000 interments and has ample space for expansion. Eligibility information for veterans may be found at: www.va.gov/burials-memorials/eligibility.

Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk and is located in the town of Saratoga. For more information go to: cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/geraldbhsolomonsaratoga.asp. Follow on Instagram: instagram.com/gbhs_saratoganatcem, and Facebook: facebook.com/NatCemSaratoga. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Sixteen formal charges of misconduct have been filed against Saratoga Springs Fire Chief Joseph Dolan, according to city Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino. 

With the filing of the charges, Chief Dolan’s employment status goes from paid administrative leave to suspension without pay, Montagnino said in a statement. 

The 16 charges, the details of which were released May 23, include multiple allegations of Dolan’s attending training at the State Academy of Fire Sciences in Montour Falls, as well as providing training at the Saratoga County Fire Training Center Center, and at the Troy Fire Department for which he was paid by the state, while not charging “leave time,” and so also being paid full salary as city fire chief. 

The charges also allege an intent to obtain personal benefit by using a city-owned vehicle for personal use. 

“I don’t believe there’s anything here that would warrant the termination of the Chief’s employment,”  said Dolan’s attorney, Brian Culnan. “Based on the facts as I understand them, it’s obvious to me that the city is really not aware of a lot of the facts here and has charged him with a lot of stuff in which there’s really no wrongdoing.” 

Dolan’s response to the commissioner’s allegations is anticipated in early June.

SARSTOGA SPRINGS — The City Council approved the awarding of $10,000 Mayor’s Non-Profit Grants to four organizations. 

Those organizations are: The Wesley Health Care Center, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs, Race Track Chaplaincy of America Metro NY Division, and Saratoga Springs Arts District. 

There were 30 proposals vying for the grants, and each of the grants were unanimously approved by the City Council. 

Wesley Health Care Center operates a Certified Nurse Assistants Training Program to prepare previously unemployed and underemployed Saratoga-area residents for CNA positions and guarantees employment for those who successfully complete the program. Approximately 78 individuals participate in the paid on-the-job training annually. The program provides a continual supply of certified individuals to fill open positions throughout The Wesley Community and other local health care organizations.

Funds will be used to purchase materials for trainees, who are provided with textbooks, CPR cards, gait belts, personal protective equipment, and other personal care tools for use during the training and beyond.

Citing statistics that express the importance of parents, guardians, and other family members of LGBTQ youth to have access to the resources they need to ensure their LGBTQ children are protected and supported, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs will use funds to develop targeted programs to support LGBTQ teens, parents and allies and the hire of professional facilitators, coordinators, presenters, and therapists to support that programming. 

The New York Race Track Chaplaincy ministers to a community of stable workers and their families with children’s enrichment, teen mentoring, women’s enrichment, social service, recreational, and educational programs as well as non-denominational religious services. The funding allows the organization to continue serving the families of the backstretch community with excellence and provides the stability to relieve concerns regarding the number of families who may seek the organization’s assistance at Saratoga. 

Identifying a project that will benefit merchants, restaurants and clubs by the increase of traffic to Beekman Street, the Saratoga Springs Arts District – located on Beekman Street – plans to use funding to hire a professional event planner who would select and organize visiting artists and makers, hire musicians, promote and advertise events, and serve as liaison for the merchants on Beekman, as well as  use funds to hire artists to demonstrate their creative process during events. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — City Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi presented the 2022 Preliminary Financial Report for Saratoga Springs for the Fiscal Year ended Dec. 31, 2022. The updated document was filed with the State Comptroller’s Office on April 28, 2023 and presented to the City Council on May 4.   

Some of the comparable data of general fund revenues between 2022 and 2021: Sales Tax collections were $16.955 million, an increase of 13% over 2021; Hotel Room Occupancy Tax collections $743,000, an increase of 27%; Admission Tax: $451,000, up 13% over 2021. 

In general fund expenses, Health Insurance costs were $7.824 million in 2022, an increase of 8% from 2021.   

The unaudited numbers show an excess fund balance, but Sanghvi cautioned, “we need to be conservative in spending and look for additional revenue sources. The success of 2022 was largely due to Federal Funds, a one-time revenue source…we should be looking at building reserves, covering liabilities, investing in infrastructure and establishing stable revenue streams.” 

Sanghvi said some potential future revenue streams include registration for short term rentals, and dispensaries and cannabis cafes – municipalities receive a 3% tax on cannabis sales, under New York State law. 

The Finance Office is preparing the 2022 Financial Statements. Upon completion of the audit, the commissioner will publicly release the audited figures. 

SARATOGA COUNTY — It is a 10-minute discussion that can save a life. And it is offered free of charge.   

“The level of overdoses we’ve seen the past couple of years…
we haven’t experienced this before in my 30 years,” says Saratoga County Health & Services Committee chairman Phil Barrett. “It crosses every demographic- age, gender, economics.” 

On this day, Barrett is standing in a parking lot adjacent to the county building complex in Ballston Spa. He is flanked by a multitude of county health department workers wearing bright blue windbreakers that showcase the county seal and manning similarly draped tables where walk-ins are provided a 10-minute-long, one-on-one training session about administering nasal Narcan. The overdose reversal drug (Naloxone) works on opioids such as heroin, prescription pain medications and fentanyl. 

Since January Saratoga County’s Department of Health has conducted more than 30 training events and distributed more than 3,400 two-dose Narcan kits across the county. 

During the sessions, participants are trained to recognize an opioid overdose and how to administer nasal Narcan. The training takes about 10 minutes and participants receive a Certificate of Completion that states they have been trained in the use of naloxone for the purpose of preventing death from an opioid overdose. They are also given a free Narcan rescue kit, which includes two doses of Narcan, a rescue breathing face shield, a certificate of training, a drug disposal system, and a mental health and substance use disorder resource guide. 

“The availability of drugs has always been there, but now you have an increased availability of cheap drugs that are extremely harmful, more harmful than we’ve ever seen,” Barrett says. 

Less than six months into 2023, there have been more than one dozen fatalities in Saratoga County and about 250 countywide overdoses overall. The age-range: as young as 13, as old as 73. And that’s only the ones that have been reported. Over the previous five years, approximately 250 known drug-related overdose fatalities have occurred in Saratoga County. 

“Each individual that attends one of these events you can save a life with everything you learn. That’s really the goal – to get as much information and resources to people directly in our communities.” 

Nationwide, more than 101,000 reported fatal overdoses occurred in the 12-month period ending in October 2022, primarily driven by synthetic opioids like illicit fentanyl, according to the FDA. 

“We know this is a huge issue nationally, statewide, locally,” said Board of County Supervisors Chairman Theodore Kusnierz. “The numbers tell the tale. We’re seeing increases every year in opioid overdoses, so In Saratoga County we’ve made fighting the scourge of opioids our top priority.  Now that we’ve transitioned from the COVID-19 pandemic now we can focus particularly on this issue.”

Some of the ways the county is addressing the issue includes earmarking nearly $1 million – it has received about $900,000 in opioid settlement money to date – in what Kuznierz calls a multi-prong approach” which includes the Saratoga County Health Department, the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, and the county Sheriff’s office in providing assistance for prevention, education, and treatment.

Specifically, the county has initiated a comprehensive, near real-time substance-use surveillance dashboard to help response efforts in combatting the opioid epidemic  - at Savealifeto.day - authorized the spending of $50,000 to purchase a mass spectrometer – which rapidly detects specific substances involved in overdoses - and stages Narcan training and distribution events. 

“We’ve seen the numbers and we know that they are not trending down, that’s for sure,” Kusnierz said. “I should point out that these are only reported cases. We know there are other cases that are not reported, so the numbers are even higher.” 

An additional method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm involves Fentanyl test strips, or FTS. The small strips of paper can detect the presence of Fentanyl - an opioid 50-100 times more potent than heroin and morphine - in various different kinds of drugs. It is unclear whether the county has, or will have FTS, and make them available to the general public. 

Narcan nasal spray was first approved by the FDA in 2015 as a prescription drug. 

Currently, the State DOH provides the nasal spray to local health departments at no charge so they can provide training and free distribution of Narcan to their communities. 

Six weeks ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the approval of Narcan nasal spray for over-the-counter, nonprescription, use. It is the first naloxone product approved for use without a prescription. When it does make its way onto the shelves of neighborhood stores, however, the cost of the nasal spray may get pricey. The county plans to continue to distribute the kits free of charge for as long as they have them. 

For upcoming Saratoga County DOH training and distribution events, go to:  www.saratogacountyny.gov/narcan. 

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