City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS — 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.
In 2017, the last time a citizen-led City Charter referendum proposed change, the measure was defeated by a razor-thin margin of 4,458 - 4,448.
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.
The “Council-Manager” proposal calls for replacing that “Commission” form in favor of one that includes a mayor – elected by the voters of the city at large, and six members elected from city wards by the voters of those specific wards. Those six wards are to be comprised of equal voting population.
That city council of seven would then appoint, set the salary for, and hire a City Manager. The idea is that residents would be represented through the ward system, and the manager held to accountability via the city council.
A new group opposing the charter change proposal staged a gathering in Congress Park this week. They call themselves Saratoga Works and include co-chairs Connie Woytowich and Jane Weihe, and steering committee members Chris Obstarczyk, Courtney DeLeonardis, Janice Partridge, Jay Partridge, George Cain, and Joe Dalton.
Weihe said a change in Saratoga Springs’ current form of government would be risky during a time of a pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, and that this “expensive version of charter change” would politicize neighborhoods by dividing them into wards.
Those financial concerns are specifically related to what the overall costs could be should the plan be implemented; even though some city deputy or assistant salaries would be saved, new workers would still need to be hired to conduct the work the current city employees are doing, she argued.
“We don’t know what it will cost. This is more of a concept than a plan,” she said. A website, saratogaworks.org, was launched in conjunction with the group gathering.
Gordon Boyd is a member of the citizen group proposing the new charter for the city. Last summer, a group of 41 residents circulated the petitions necessary to place the proposition on this November’s ballot. A total of 1,565 registered voters signed the petition to put the proposal on the ballot.
“We’ve got a chance to start fresh coming out of this public health crisis,” said Boyd, adding that an information website is anticipated to be launched sometime around Labor Day, heading into the election season. If approved by voters, the measure is expected 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 the 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.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In January, Robin Dalton took office as city Public Safety Commissioner – the first woman to hold the position which oversees, among other things, the overall operation of the police and fire departments.
She grew up in Manhattan “in a really loving, happy home, and attended classes at the Chapin School, an all-girls school on the Upper East Side that lists among its alumnae Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Vera Wang, and N.Y. Mets owner Joan Whitney Payson. “Ivanka Trump was two grades below me,” Dalton says. Shortly after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Cornell University, in 2007 Dalton relocated to Saratoga Springs where she lives with her husband and their four children.
FROM LOCAL RESIDENT TO CITY GOVERNMENT
In 2012, Dalton began digging into city politics and observing council meetings. “To me it was very important to have experience in Saratoga and get involved in the community in a way to really understand the spirit of the city so I can represent the people who live here to the best of my potential. So, I really waited until I was ready to take this on because I knew it would be challenging.
“One of the best things about it was I perceived partisanship as not being a factor in how the City Council was voting. It didn’t seem people were making politically based decisions. The decisions were being made as for what’s best for the city. And I think that’s also been my happiest revelation over these past seven months. I don’t think there’s been a single moment where anyone has invoked my party to persuade me to vote one way or another. It’s a non-issue,” Dalton says. “Partisanship doesn’t have any role in how the City Council votes. And to me that’s a really good thing. That’s been really awesome.” Seven months on the job, Dalton sat down this week to talk about the status of several pressing city issues in this most unusual year.
When the city declared a State of Emergency in March, the city’s Emergency Management Plan directed the public safety commissioner lead a team to address the emergency. “That was a moment when our form of government was at its best,” Dalton says. The city’s Commission form of governing – which charges each commissioner with different responsibilities, yet equal political power was born specifically from emergency when it was implemented in Texas, in 1901 as a reaction to the Galveston hurricane.
“I was also fortunate to have a City Council that was supportive of how I was sourcing and disseminating information, which was taking it from our governor. It was disappointing to me we didn’t have a leader of our country who led by example – handling it with science and data rather than partisanship, so I was going to stick to the guidelines laid out by Governor Cuomo. I would say I love what he’s doing right now. Will I love what he’s doing six months from now? A year from now? Probably not, but that’s not going to prevent me from saying he’s done a great job handling the virus.”
A member of the Republican Party, she is unafraid to step outside any pre-conceived limitations regarding party and is something she says she was upfront about when first interviewing with the city GOP Committee. “I went through a list of things I knew they weren’t necessarily going to be happy about: I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-immigrant – but I wanted to be clear upfront about what I stand for.”
POLITICIZING A VIRUS
“Unfortunately, everything has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s not about your health necessarily, it’s about what you stand for, what party you’re with. I think that’s really sad and destructive. It’s been divisive but at the end of the day all I care about is that the city is as healthy as possible and simultaneously that our economy is strong. There is an incredible importance in both and we’re not here to put one above the other.”
“We have models we look at and we’re working very closely with the hospital. We are expecting positive cases to go up because kids are coming back to school. We need to predict these things. I don’t think it’s going to take us back to where we were at our peak, which was about 10% positive cases. Right now, we’ve dropped to under 1% which is fantastic. There’s a huge mental health component and our children have suffered immensely. We’re trying to give kids a little bit of normalcy.”
ADDRESSING THE NEED FOR A FIRE/EMS STATION TO SERVE RESIDENTS OF THE EAST SIDE
“We have done a site plan and needs analysis of the Henning Road location and put out an RFP for a design firm. We had planned on moving on this aggressively, but when the pandemic hit everything got paused.” The question now is how best to move forward in a tough economic climate. To that end, the city is exploring state aid and grant possibilities to assist moving forward. “I think this is a smart way to handle it that doesn’t put us in a situation of it being a financial liability. But we’re setting ourselves up such that we can use money from the state to complete the project and deliver for our east side residents their emergency medical needs while also not putting the city in a precarious financial position.”
HOMELESSNESS AND THE NEED FOR A PERMANENT CODE BLUE EMERGENCY SHELTER
“With this pandemic and this ensuing financial collapse, we’re going to be seeing a lot of people who are in distress in terms of keeping a roof over their head. And (homelessness) is not a one-size-fits-all problem. There are some people who are drug-addicted, people who have mental issues, people who have no interest in finding or seeking shelter and have established a lifestyle outside, downtown. That works for them, but it’s not something that as a city the residents want to tolerate. If you go over to the Woodlawn parking lot you can see it almost every day; it’s almost an encampment and really a struggle for the neighbors there. So, we’re addressing that – but homelessness is not something that can be solved by law enforcement. It can be solved by having community partners working together in the spirit that the Saratoga Collaborative to End Homelessness is working in. You need the county on board, you need all the social services to be on board and everyone needs to come at this issue wanting to get rid of all the roadblocks and challenges that are in place, to get people into housing and work through them in difficult and sometimes scary ways. Without that, I don’t know that there is a fix for this issue.”
“We also have this enormous need for a year-round shelter, and we don’t have that place right now. We’re just pushing people from one area of the city to the other, going around and around and it’s an enormous waste of time, energy, resources and ultimately isn’t helping the people who we want to help. So, It’s incredibly frustrating and incredibly challenging. That’s really a critical part of this problem. We have to have this permanent, year-round facility, and then it comes down to whose responsibility is it to financially provide this. I am very committed to solving this problem, but I also know the roadblocks and challenges ahead of us are significant.
RALLIES AND PROTESTS AND ISSUES OF RACE
“Emotions have been running extremely high – not just about race but of all these contributing factors, all over America. I can’t recall a time when people have been this traumatized and have had such heightened emotions and reactions.
“For any kind of significant change to happen it needs to happen as a community, not just as law enforcement. This is a Saratoga Springs conversation. We all need to be addressing how the experience of being white in Saratoga is very different than being black in Saratoga. (Our officers) have reached out to Black Lives Matter protesters locally, taking a knee with protestors, walking arm-in-arm with them. They’ve exercised incredible professionalism and the only thing they want is for people to exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and the right to gather and protest and to be able to do that in one piece. The absolutely last thing I wanted was for anyone to be arrested and any kind of violence to break out.
“I will be very candid and say I don’t think having a Back The Blue rally was an appropriate choice at this time. I thought it was a bit tone-deaf and likely to make the challenges of addressing Black Lives Matter and racism and bias larger and make people louder and angrier and divide people more than it would bring people together. I’m looking at this in a bigger picture context. Because of this moment of time that we’re in, I really do feel we need to be focusing on how being black in Saratoga is extremely different than being white in Saratoga, and that’s not something people are necessarily ready to acknowledge, to work toward something better.
“I believe in my department, I believe in our professionalism. I also understand the families who have someone working in law enforcement wanting to show their support for what these officers have been doing, but unfortunately in the national context that immediately gets misconstrued or associated with racism or fascism or all sorts of political extremism. I know locally that wasn’t the intention at all, but it all led up to this horrible, stressful, awful moment where these two groups of people are screaming at each other, (figuratively) ripping each other apart, and it was so sad to watch because there’s no reason why one group should be pitted against another group. I think we all want a lot of the same things. To see how both groups expressed how emotional and angry they were was just a sad state of affairs.
“Believe in law enforcement. Believe that black lives matter. I think it’s perfectly normal to have both those things live in the same person. But what I’m seeing is people thinking you can’t be both these things, and that’s disturbing and sad. I think we’ll get through it, but we have a lot of healing and work to do.
IN 12 MONTHS TIME
“I hope we return to some sense of normalcy in terms of our behavior and how we interact with one another. I’m hoping that our health is good and that our economy is recovered. Life as we knew it. But, with this new and real threat of a Pandemic it’s going to be a challenge. We still don’t know everything we need to know about it. We still don’t have a vaccine. There are all these variables that need to be answered before we can say with confidence that we’re good, we’re safe.”
LAKE GEORGE – Accomplished world soloists, graduates of Juilliard, Curtis, Yale, Rice University, Carnegie Mellon, and members of major orchestras such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic, and the Buffalo Philharmonic will perform at the Lake George Music Festival “Drive-In” Series Sept. 19-20.
Attendees are encouraged to watch the performance from their car/truck, or bring a chair to place within arm’s length of their vehicle. Performances will be visually enhanced with large screen video and audiences will have the option of listening to the amplified performance, or tuning into a high quality and synced audio feed (FM radio) to play through their car’s sound system.
The program will feature Beethoven Quintet for Piano and Winds, Schubert “Trout” Quintet, Rubinstein Octet Op.9, and more.
The event takes place at the Charles R. Wood Park - Lake George Festival Commons, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 and Sunday, Sept. 20.
From organizers: We will begin parking cars at 6 p.m. Cars will be parked every other car and in single rows to comply with physical distancing recommendations. We encourage guests to arrive with members of your household. Early entry will not be permitted. We encourage attendees to use the restroom prior to arrival; however, we will have sanitized restrooms on site. The entire process will be “touchless.” Those who order their passes online will have no contact with festival staff or musicians. We will simply check you in and direct you where to park. Cars will be directed to vacate the premises immediately after curtain and will not be allowed to linger.
Passes for each concert sold at $25 per vehicle. Vehicles may contain the legal limit of individuals. Passes will be sold online in advance (recommended) or at the gate. Concert programs will be distributed digitally on the large screen or available to view on your Smartphone or Tablet.
For more information and to purchase passes, go to: lakegeorgemusicfestival.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) will host a re-imagined “TRF BBQ at the Barn” summer fundraiser 4 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. at The Saratoga Winery. This year’s BBQ will be carry-out with a twist.
Guests will drive thru the grounds to enjoy a TRF “Experience” with miniature ponies, racing celebrities, goodies for the kids, and a special appearance by Joey, the TRF Herd Ambassador, who will be returning to Saratoga from the TRF Second Chances Program at Wallkill. The event will feature BBQ from Barnsider BBQ in Lake George; a TRF Specialty cocktail created by the Winery; and locally made pies from Mourningkill Bake Shop. Items will be individually ordered online for carryout (only). Proceeds from the event will benefit the hundreds of TRF horses in the organization’s national herd.
The Saratoga Winery is located at 462 NY-29 in Saratoga Springs. Tickets and donation options available by visiting the TRF website at www.trfinc.org/event/bbq-at-the-barn-2020/ .
Founded in 1983, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is a national organization devoted to saving Thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete at the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter. As the
oldest Thoroughbred rescue in the country, the TRF provides sanctuary to retired Thoroughbreds throughout their lifetime.
For more information visit: www.trfinc.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Local antiques specialist and auctioneer Mark Lawson secured an exceptional result in the sale of an antique Chinese bronze censer for his long-time client Jim Kambrich, the recently retired
anchor for WNYT Channel 13 News.
The bronze censer had come down through Kambrich’s family from his grandparents and was among the items Jim and his wife Susan sold through Mark Lawson Antiques in an effort to downsize and move after Jim’s retirement.
The censer was about 11 inches tall and took the form of a “foo dog,” the mythical Chinese guardian lion that typically stands in front of Imperial palaces. An initial sale price for this piece was $300 to $500. When the gavel finally fell, the sale price was $20,000. Remarkably, this kind of thing happens regularly with the sale of good quality Chinese antiques to a new and growing population of native Chinese collectors.
Mark Lawson Antiques is currently cataloguing its next sale, a live auction with online-only bidding scheduled for Aug. 1, 2020. Live previews will be held on July 30 and 31. Please see marklawsonantiques.com for details.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Syracuse District, and SCORE present an update webinar on SBA’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and New York State’s Women-Owned Enterprise (WBE) certification programs.
The free online event will take place 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6.
SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship for more than 50 years.
The Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting certification process is changing, and the new certification will be required as of Oct. 15. Applications can be submitted using the new process starting in July. Becoming certified for the WOSB program means your business is eligible to compete for WOSB Federal Contracting Program set-aside contracts.
The webinar will feature Stephen Barr - Business Opportunity Specialist, SBA Syracuse District Office, and Kayla Perry - Program Manager, North Country Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC).
Register for the webinar at: score.zoom.us/webinar/registerWN_5f5sKYCpQQWZYGQe68fqw
Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — This week, city Mayor Meg Kelly read three proclamations. The first honored the legacy of Solomon Northup.
Northup, a free black man living in Saratoga Springs, was in March 1841 tricked by two con artists who had promised him work in New York City but instead transported him further south where he was sold into slavery. It is where he would remain for the next 12 years.
At the time, Northup was 32 years old and lived with his wife, Anne, and their three children in Saratoga Springs - first on Washington Street, then relocating around the block to the United States Hotel. He was engaged in seasonal work at the busy hotels during summers and secured engagements as a violin player during the winter months to make ends meet.
“I was walking about the village of Saratoga Springs, thinking about where I might obtain some present employment…on the corner of Congress Street and Broadway near the tavern still kept by Mr. (C.B.) Moon,” Northup recounted in the book he wrote about those years, titled: “Twelve Year a Slave.”
The strangers promised Northup $1 for each day of service plus $3 per show in addition to cover his traveling expenses back to Saratoga Springs. He was enslaved for 12 years.
Saratoga’s reputation as a resort town had already been established by the mid-1800s. The black population in Saratoga Springs grew from less than 100 in the 1830s to nearly 300 by mid-century. Many were attracted, as Northup was, by the hope of job opportunities.
“I passed the days and nights. I was heart sick and discouraged. Thoughts of my family, of my wife and children, continually occupied my mind. When sleep overpowered me, I dreamed of them - dreamed I was again in Saratoga - that I could see their faces, and hear their voices calling me,” Northup wrote.
Although northern-based blacks were said to be free, many were kidnapped and brought South where they would be sold. In 1800, all of Saratoga County had 358 slaves. By 1810, the figure was 107. At the time of Northup’s abduction 30 years later, census figures list a total of four slaves in the entire state of New York. By comparison, southern states like Georgia showed 280,000; South Carolina more than 320,000 and Virginia recorded nearly a half million slaves among the population in the 1840s.
Solomon Northup Day, launched by local resident Renee Moore, was first designated in Saratoga Springs in 1999. A plaque commemorating Northup was fixed outside the Saratoga Visitors Center on the corner of Congress Street and Broadway.
Northup’s book was published shortly after his release in 1853. In 2013, a film adaptation of Northup’s book, titled “12 Years A Slave,” garnered numerous awards, including an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.
A second city proclamation honored the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Capital District Transit Authority on Aug. 1 and noted that in its highest ridership year CDTA had secured 17.1 million riders.
A third proclamation expressed appreciation for the work conducted by AIM Services, Inc., who have residential and community-based services to people with disabilities since 1979 in Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties, and was read in advance of next week’s 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In 1821, renowned composer, musician, show man and bandleader Francis Johnson was hired to come to Saratoga and entertainer summer visitors at Congress Hall.
The Philadelphia-born fiddle player had adapted his musical skills to the newly designed keyed bugle which earned him high prominence on the early 19th century concert circuit, providing him bookings all across North America as well as overseas.
Born a free black man, Johnson led his band in Saratoga Springs for more than 20 years - between 1821 and 1843 - missing only the 1840 season. He played to overflow crowds that invited extended bookings.
"The groves and spacious halls of Saratoga resounded with the notes of this enchanting bugle and violin," reads one anonymously penned local review of the era, praising Johnson and his band's performance of "music from all the recent operas, together with waltzes, gallopades, marches and quicksteps."
Johnson performed twice a day in Congress Park and alternated evenings at Congress Hall and the United States Hotel. His compositions included pieces titled in honor of the region - "Saratoga," "Congress Hall," and "Ballston," among them.
He entertained families with cheerful marches, livened up parties with cotillions - brisk, lively dance tunes, enjoyed by audiences that included James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.
For his band, Johnson hired what was regarded as some of the best black musicians of the early 19th century, and shortly before his death in 1844, he staged what are believed to be some of the first integrated concerts in America.
The bandleader was recognized in Saratoga Springs on July 20, 1978 – which was declared Frank Johnson Day, in a proclamation issued by the city of Saratoga Springs and signed by Mayor Raymond Watkin.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — As the city begins to move toward budget season – a 2021 budget must be approved by the end of November – the estimated revenues that will factor into that budget are anticipated at nearly $8 million less than was budgeted for 2020.
“Even with the phased reopening, our city cannot expect revenues to rise to former levels immediately upon the reopening of our downtown,” city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan told the council this week.
“It is generally held that it will be months, if not years before the new economy establishes itself well. In addition social, behavioral and consumer changes due to closed businesses, wide-spread unemployment and other results of COVID-19 will continue to affect revenue collection well into the future.”
Madigan estimated that revenue collection - without any additional state or federal aid - at approximately $7.8 million less than the amount estimated for the pre-COVID world of 2020. As such, the 2021 general operating budget revenue is anticipated to be $40.9 million, down from the current year’s $48.7 million adopted budget.
Madigan reported the following year-to-date comparisons:
Sales Tax: year-to-date collection 19% lower than last year. More specifically - May 2020 is 37% less than May 2019.
Occupancy Tax: year-to-date collection is 54% lower than last year at this time. Specifically, 2nd quarter collection is 78% less than 2nd quarter collections in 2019.
Mortgage Tax: 0.24% lower than 2019, year-to-date.
Some Good News: The state released 80% - or $1.86 million - of annual VLT aid amount to the city.
COVID-19 SAFETY PROTOCOLS
City officials said this week that a newly amended state law will provide greater clarity in enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols. The amended law comes in the wake of some businesses and municipalities alike requesting stronger language than what had previously been issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as an Executed Order.
“The New York State Department of Health (on July 9) amended the Public Health Law, specifically Section 66, which codifies statutorily the requirements that Gov. Cuomo had implemented in the executive order and also imposed the ability for civil penalties associated with that, establishing authority for state and local municipalities to enforce those provisions,” City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said Tuesday.
“So it’s something we’re looking at to address that’s not necessarily punitive or restrictive, but lets people know that health is a priority for Saratoga Springs, that you can come here and feel comfortable,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
“We’ve been looking for ways to encourage and enforce people wearing face masks in and around Saratoga Springs. It continues to be a problem, and the problem has grown. We keep hearing from people who are uncomfortable to leave their homes, or uncomfortable to visit here because they’re afraid they’re not going to be safe and healthy if they visit our downtown,” she said, adding that the biggest problem is weekend nights on Caroline Street, where large crowds gather along the sidewalks outside late-night establishments.
‘It’s not really the bars and restaurants, they’re doing a great job, it’s the people who are coming downtown and wandering in big packs on the sidewalks (and) no one’s wearing a mask. So that to me is the more urgent situation for us to be able to address the safety issue through this public health amendment.” Dalton said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “We’re not going to be scouring Broadway in the middle of the day, seeking out people who aren’t wearing masks.”
DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco argued that the police had better things to do than to enforce people wearing masks. Commissioner Dalton responded to say there already exists a police presence along Caroline Street, and actions there wouldn’t take away from any other safety issues in the city.
Commissioner Madigan added that there is no reason why police wouldn’t want to ask large crowds who had gathered to disperse or to don masks, and that pedestrians exhibiting safety measures also provide a positive display for local economic reasons in assuring people it is safe to visit and shop downtown.
The amended Public Health Law – which may be read in its entirety on the NYS website under New York Codes, Rules and Regulations heading - contains some exemptions, and reads, in part: Any person who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance.
SARATOGA COUNTY DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH RESIGNS
Saratoga County Director of Public Health Catherine Duncan announced this week that she will retire, effective July 31. As such, the agency is currently actively seeking to fill the position of Commissioner Of Health.
The appointment to the position is for a term of six years at a salary of $132,446 plus benefits. Job responsibilities include to direct, manage and regulate the Department’s delivery of public health services throughout Saratoga County. Requirements include: being a physician currently registered to practice medicine in New York State and possessing two years of experience in administrative practice in a health-related organization or government agency. For more information about the position, call 518-885-2225, or go to: www.saratogacountyny.gov.
HEALTH & WELLNESS PROPRIETORS UTILIZE CITY PARKS
The City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday, and Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco announced Wednesday that Saratoga Springs based gyms, fitness trainers, and yoga studios are able to utilize Congress Park, High Rock Park, Geyser Road Veterans Memorial Park, and the Waterfront Park to host workout sessions without paying rental fees through Sept. 7.
Health and wellness proprietors can host classes at the specified parks by filling out a rental use agreement.
Regulations: No permanent equipment can be installed and a strict carry-in, carry-out procedure must be followed. Safety guidelines set forth by the CDC must be adhered to including mask wearing and social distancing. No loud speakers, loud music, or other activity interfering with others’ enjoyment of the park will be authorized. Providers must submit an anticipated schedule and location to inform the city of routine dates and times of usage, and DPW will resolve any conflicts between providers and/or other renters of the parks; location preference will be given to paid renters. A Certificate of Insurance must also be furnished.
COVID-19 Testing Sites and Antibody Testing Sites for Saratoga County change frequently and are updated at the Saratoga County website. Currently, sites include: Saratoga Hospital and Wilton Medical Arts – where COVID-19 and Antibody testing are available to Saratoga County residents of all ages with a provider order; Malta Med Emergent Care - Provider order required, and Saratoga Hospital Medical Group Primary Care in Ballston Spa - Antibody testing only – available with provider order. Appointment information, criteria for testing, and a regularly updated list of testing sites is available at: www.saratogacountyny.gov.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The bugler blows the Call To The Post. If there are no spectators inside the racecourse to hear it, does it make a sound?
In this unusual summer of a most unusual year, the racing season nonetheless got underway as scheduled on July 16, and is slated to run through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7. This year, a lot will be different. Perhaps the biggest is staging the races – or at least the start of the summer meet - without fans in the stands, in compliance with New York State guidelines.
Forty-eight hours prior to the start of the Saratoga meet, NYRA officials and members the city’s Public Safety department staged a joint press conference at the racecourse to discuss additional changes for the start of the summer meet.
“The critical part of this meet is we celebrate racing – but, we celebrate at home. This city cannot have people come to the track and try to watch the races,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
The city requested and NYRA complied with the installation of a temporary “privacy fencing” along exterior boundaries of the race course on Union and Nelson Avenues where it is feared fans may congregate on the sidewalk in close quarters to catch glimpses of the action inside.
“The COVID pandemic has really changed the way we do things – both personally and professionally,” said assistant city Police Chief John Catone, who along with Public Safety Commissioner Dalton, was joined by city Fire Department Battalion Chief Aaron Dyer at the press gathering on July 14.
Catone discussed the importance of having a “fluid safety plan” which can flex as COVID-related restrictions are either increased, or loosened – in the latter case enabling the potentiality of limited spectator attendance or horse owners at some point during the summer.
“We were trying to figure every potential scenario: no fans to partial fans to everybody’s going to be back to normal,” said Catone, adding that discussions between city officials and NYRA officials were initiated in April. “The safety and operation plan is very fluid,” Catone said, “and it’s also going to be based on what we see the next week or so, in terms of people who want to show up and try to catch live racing - and we’re going to deal with it accordingly. We want NYRA to have a successful meet but we also do not want to put ourselves in a position like some other states right now – where they opened too early, they didn’t control the pandemic and their numbers have risen dramatically.”
There will still be “a few” officers assigned to the track and its surroundings, including an officer with a bomb-sniffing dog, and others to deal with potential traffic and pedestrian issues.
YOU WANT TO MAKE A BET
In 2019, $2.1 billion was wagered on 2,000 races at Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont, according to the New York Racing Association. The Saratoga meet delivered the largest return of gambled money - $147 million wagered at the track, and a $705 million all-source handle – meaning many more dollars were spent on Saratoga races at off-track betting sites across the globe, than were at the actual track. Other 2019 betting dollars: Belmont Spring & Summer – 48 days, $525 million all-source handle; Belmont Fall – 37 days, $275 million; Aqueduct – 25 days Fall, $205 million.
This year, on July 13, NYRA announced that the Belmont Park spring/summer meet generated $15,466,198 in average daily handle from all sources, a 42 percent increase over the daily handle during 2019 spring/summer meet. And despite running 23 fewer days than in 2019, all sources handle during the spring/summer meet totaled $386,654,955.
Financially, the city of Saratoga Springs is estimated to suffer a $14 to $16 million revenue loss this calendar year, or a quarter of the city’s $48.7 million budget due to the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic. The city receives no money from wagering, said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. It normally receives funds via an admission tax; those funds go to Saratoga County and are then shared with the city of Saratoga Springs. However, with no fans in the stands as it looks right now, there will be no paid admissions and subsequently no funds to come the city’s way.
NEW RULES FOR JOCKEYS
Two days prior to opening day, NYRA announced a number of updated health and safety protocols that includes closing the track to out-of-town jockeys riding at other racetracks, and requiring all personnel working at Saratoga Race Course in any capacity to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property. That policy is inclusive of jockeys, valets, NYRA employees, trainers and their staff, outside vendors and credentialed media. A NYRA spokesman Tuesday said that a partnership with Saratoga Hospital was secured for a consistent stream of testing.
The 2020 Saratoga Summer Condition Book currently lists 22 active jockeys and three apprentice riders. This group is to be considered the regular NYRA jockey colony.
Any jockey who rides at a racetrack outside of Saratoga from opening day forward will be considered an out-of-town jockey and will not be permitted at Saratoga Race Course. Out-of-town jockeys not currently riding at another racetrack may be considered for inclusion in the regular NYRA jockey colony provided the jockey does not ride at another racetrack.
In addition to race day safety protocols including standard health screening and temperature check, NYRA says the jockey quarters at Saratoga Race Course have been substantially altered to provide maximum social distancing and reduce density. All areas accessed by jockeys during the regular course of a race day are closed to all outside personnel, including credentialed media, and are cleaned and disinfected throughout the day.
Jockeys and valets are not permitted access to the barn area. In order to work a horse in the morning, the jockey must meet the horse in the paddock and can then proceed to the main track.
Steeplechase jockeys must produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property and will be completely isolated from the regular NYRA jockey colony in a physically separate location. Following that day’s steeplechase race, which will be carded as race one, the steeplechase jockeys will depart the property.
NYRA will follow current Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and New York State Health Department guidance when determining the return of a jockey who has tested positive for COVID-19. This process will include a period of quarantine determined by the severity of the individual case followed by a series of diagnostic tests to rule out ongoing infection.
Following the four-day opening weekend at Saratoga, live racing will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A bronze sculpture of a Civil War soldier dedicated in September 1875 in Congress Park was found to be vandalized early Thursday morning. A plaque adjoining the soldier – a mustached figure wearing a cap and a knee-length coat - reads: The 77th Regiment New York Volunteers, Bemis Heights Battalion.
Earlier this week, graffiti marred the pedestrian steps on the south side of the park.
“We will not tolerate this kind of vandalism and destruction in the city – between the (graffiti marred) Katrina Trask steps and now the statue in Congress Park, we’re going to find out who did this and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
It is not known whether surveillance cameras in Congress Park had captured any of the activity. Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to contact the Saratoga Springs Police Department at 518-584-1800.