Displaying items by tag: saratoga springs
There is a basic law of economics which states, if you subsidize undesirable behavior, you will get more undesirable behavior. I believe the same is true if you ALLOW undesirable behavior.
If you had not yet heard, this past Saturday downtown Saratoga Springs was once again the epicenter of a 6-hour long standoff between protesters and everyone else.
The unscheduled event, which violated city ordinances, shut down multiple roads and left businesses and restaurants empty on what could have been their busiest day of the season.
This comes approximately 5 weeks after the emergency city council meeting which was held to address this specific type of situation. At that meeting, Mayor Meg Kelly came out strong stating
“It is time to make some changes here because we cannot have this happening time and time again in the city of Saratoga Springs – period. We are not going to block streets.”
Public Safety Commissioner Dalton shared her sentiment “The Saratoga Springs Police Department recognizes the right to peacefully protest, however, one person’s constitutional right does not supersede another’s.” Assistant Chief Cattone then laid out guidelines and actions which would be taken moving forward.
I am not sure what happened between that October 1 meeting and last Saturday, but officers from SSPD, the Sheriff’s Department and the State Police stood by as the protesters chanted “Biden won but we’re not done…These are our streets” and taunted the officers. There were also numerous reports of bystanders and families being harassed before they got out of town.
I have to say that I am disgusted, embarrassed, and sickened by this situation. We are in a global pandemic, businesses and families are struggling, yet some individuals feel they have the right to shut down roads, detour traffic at their discretion, and shout vulgarities over a megaphone. And let’s not ignore the fact that the blocked intersection is the primary road to Saratoga Hospital. What happens when a frantic mother is rushing her asthmatic child to the hospital and discovers her route is shut down and she must find a detour?
On Monday morning I had the opportunity to speak with several downtown business owners, and the financial gravity of the situation really hit home. One food/drink establishment shared, “We are struggling to make rent and pay staff. Normally on a 75-degree day, in November, we would be hopping until closing. We were empty from about 3-9 on Saturday. That crushes us.” Of important note, this was restaurant week! The other businesses I spoke with shared the same frustration and anger.
So, my question is why weren’t arrests made? Why weren’t the roads opened? Why do we tolerate this behavior?
According to SSPD Chief Crooks a tactical decision was made based on information relayed to him by supervisors on scene. “There were too many protesters vs. the number of officers.” I asked him the next logical question: why were officers on scene for hours if they weren’t going to make arrests? “Officers were there in case anything happened with the public,” he responded. “There were a number of interactions between the group and bystanders.”
I understand the police are in a no-win situation. They are damned if they do and they are damned if they don’t. But allowing these situations to continue is unacceptable and only emboldens the organizers. Forget the horrific impact on business and the potential for medical disasters due to the street detours; let’s look at the financial impact to you and me.
Every one of these occurrences, and they are increasing in regularity, costs the city thousands of dollars in overtime. An estimated guess of the infamous July 30 protest in front of Congress Park, which lasted well into the late evening, cost us $10,000. That is money not going to kids’ programs, homeless assistance, or critical infrastructure.
Who are these protesters? With the exception of the few individuals behind the megaphone, the majority this past weekend were white teenagers from our local high school and Skidmore College. The scene looked more like a dysfunctional Justin Bieber concert than anything else. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for Skidmore administration to step up and contribute to the good of our community. If Skidmore students are arrested for civil disobedience (blocking roads), I would think they should face disciplinary action under the school’s code of conduct. Skidmore students are guests in our community. I would love the hear Skidmore’s view on this.
Start arresting these kids as soon as the roads are blocked and let’s see how long their resolve lasts.
But don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. The troublemakers in the late September protest were a whole different group of agitators. In that protest they marched through our streets, harassing diners and yelling at families, while surrounded by their own security force dressed in black with baseball bats!
One thing I can predict is that sooner or later something bad is going to happen. We will either take the path of neighboring cities and slide downhill into crime and chaos, or the citizens will begin standing up to these groups and take back the streets. Neither scenario has a good ending.
In closing, the primary function of government is leadership, and to maintain law & order. Sadly, they are falling short on both right now. I know many families who have stopped coming into town because of this problem. Those families used to spend their hard-earned money shopping and eating in our city. Can we afford to turn our back on anyone right now? Do we want a city where women and children feel threatened?
They need to figure this out and put an end to it NOW. Otherwise, deputize community members and let them clear the streets.
December 1, 1812 was the date on which the founding father of Saratoga Springs, Gideon Putnam, died.
Gideon and his wife Doanda Putnam were probably the most influential couple in the formation of our great city. Gideon was originally from Sutton, Massachusetts, while Doanda was from Connecticut. Shortly after their marriage in 1787, the two began to strike out for a new beginning in Vermont and then on to the Saratoga Lake area. None of those locations worked for them until they moved to Saratoga Springs in 1789 and it all seemed to fit.
Gideon and Doanda came to the Saratoga Springs area and found a region with vast pine forests. Gideon realized that those trees could be turned into lumber to feed the need for building materials in this new developing village. Gideon began to also realize that the naturally occurring mineral springs would be a draw for large numbers of summer visitors, but the area lacked the required accommodations to support these tourists.
In 1802 the Putnams are credited with building the first hotel in the village, called Putnam’s Tavern and Boarding House. Located on Broadway, a few steps away from the Congress Spring, the hotel was an immediate success with visitors coming to the springs. The Putnams offered comfortable accommodations, good food and drink for their guests. Putnam made improvements to the Congress Spring and then later to the Columbia Spring, for easier use by those looking for a cure for their ailments by taking the waters. Gideon’s success in business was shared with the young village as he donated land for a cemetery, church and school to help plan for a great future community.
Gideon felt so strongly about the efficacy of the waters that he published a set of guidelines for the “Proper use of the springs.” He set forth clear rules that were intended to not pollute the springs as well as making the water forever free at the spring. This simple rule of free water at the spring set the tone for this rapidly developing resort destination. Owners of the mineral springs could not charge to drink at the spring and therefore could only make money by offering baths and bottling the waters for widespread distribution. In time Saratoga Springs would become the number one tourist destination in the United States during the 1800’s.
Putnam’s Tavern and Boarding House was such a success that Gideon and Doanda bought more land and began laying out many of our streets including our beautiful Broadway and adding to the size of their boarding house. By 1811 the Putnams realized that it would be a logical plan to build another hotel across the street, also on Broadway. As construction started, they decided to name the new hotel Congress Hall, after the Congress Spring. By this time the spring, a short walk away, was so famous with visitors that he thought this would help in future promotions for the hotel.
During construction of the Congress Hall, Gideon fell from the north end of the piazza and was severely injured. Gideon lingered for many months and eventually succumbed to those injuries on December 1, 1812. Even though Gideon had passed, his wife and family continued to run their businesses as well as their hotels for many years until 1864. Gideon may have died in 1812 but his idea to allow for free mineral water at the springs and plan for a successful resort city still continues today as Saratoga Springs attracts thousands of visitors a year and our mineral springs continue to be free every day.
BALLSTON SPA — Dr. Daniel Kuhles, the county’s new Commissioner of Public Health, held a live forum Dec. 4, when he provided a regional and state overview related to COVID-19 strategies, as well as an update of the pending federal vaccination program.
Kuhles, a resident of Saratoga Springs and a medical doctor, was appointed to the newly created Commissioner position in November following a four-month-long search for candidates by the county Board of Supervisors. The position carries a base salary of $132,446 and a term of six years. Job responsibilities include directing, managing and regulating the Department’s delivery of public health services throughout Saratoga County.
The 53-minute forum, first broadcast live on Dec. 4, may be viewed at the Saratoga County Public Health Services Facebook page.
Infection percentage rates in Saratoga County have doubled each month since August, and topped 4% this week on a rolling 7-day average, marking the highest infection rate since mid-May.
“The overall trend is going upwards in a direction we do not want to see it go,” Kuhles says.
Regional hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 – one of the biggest criteria the state says it now will use to determine potential shutdown strategies - was at an all-time high this week, with over 220 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the eight-county Capital Region designation, of which Saratoga County is a part.
During his presser Dec. 7, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who warned of a potential “dark time” in January if public health measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and attention to detail during even small gatherings are not followed. The result of gatherings during the Thanksgiving holiday will become evident Dec. 15-20, he said, followed by a potential surge if additional gatherings are held during the December holidays.
“Potentially, a surge upon a surge,” Fauci said. “If those things happen and we don’t mitigate well, we don’t listen to the public health measures we need to follow, we can start to see things really get bad in the middle of January…the middle of January could be a really dark time for us.”
Regarding vaccinations, Fauci said he anticipated a substantial number of health care providers and people in nursing homes will begin receiving vaccinations later this month, with essential workers and those at high-risk due to health issues having the ability to be vaccinated in the early months of 2021.
The vaccination(s) require two shots. “Say you get vaccinated today, then you get a boost 28 days later, and 7 to 10 days after that second shot, you’re optimally protected,” Fauci explained.
“I would think by the time you get to the beginning of April, you’ll start getting people who have no priority, just a normal person who has no underlying conditions. If we get them vaccinated, a full-court press, and you do that through April, May and June, by the time you get to the summer, the end of the summer and the start of the third quarter of 2021 – we should be in good shape. That’s what I’m hoping for,” Fauci said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A cutting-edge center of 21st century global technology and a venue honoring the traditional offerings of helping those in need met at the intersection of Franklin and Washington streets this week in a collaborative effort for the betterment of the local community, and all points beyond.
Elliott and Cathy Masie built the Masie Center on the east side of Saratoga Springs 20 years ago. This week, Franklin Community Center – which serves thousands of people every year locally - has purchased the Masie building and will be expanding their services. The new building, to be renamed the Michael & Stacie Arpey Family Community Center, will allow the Franklin the space it has needed to grow their programs.
Franklin Community Center has served as a social service hub for the less fortunate in and around Saratoga since 1983.
The Center's programs include a food pantry, a free after-school prevention program for local students and affordable housing for low-income individuals, as well as assisting with furniture, clothing and household needs, among others.
“At the beginning of 2019, our board really committed to obtaining more space,” explains FCC Executive Director Kari Cushing. “We were at a point where the space didn’t provide confidentiality for the people we serve.” A fundraising campaign was initiated with the idea of building an addition to an existing building to create more space.
“We were in the middle of it and had raised about $1 million toward our $2.5 million goal when the world stopped and COVID happened,” Cushing says. “We were no longer able to use our volunteers, so we repurposed all of our staff and since March we’ve been filling grocery bags, unloading trucks, delivering supplies and just doing what needs to get done.”
At the same time, she says, the need for services increased exponentially.
“The numbers have just gone through the roof. The need usually ebbs and flows and goes with the economy, but right now people are in dire need of just basic services. Since the start of the pandemic, just the food pantry has served 2,300 families – and of those 588 of them were brand new, they’d never been to a food pantry before. Those numbers are staggering,” she said.
“In September. I looked across the street and saw a For Sale out in front of the Masie building. It seemed way too good to be true, but we had to at least explore our options.” The building was listed at $2.6 million, and members of the board visited the location.
“When I tell you it’s perfect, that’s an understatement. It’s wide open and we could do whatever we need to do with the interior space, but we were still too far from our fundraising goal. We only had $1 million raised and being a non-profit we’re not comfortable taking out a loan for more than a million dollars. Our Steering Committee met to go over our options and that’s when Stacie Arpey, who’s on our board stepped up to increase her pledge from $100,0000 to $1 million and make it a reality for us. The Masies lowered their original asking price, and a deal was struck. “Between the two of them, it became possible.”
The Masie Center has served for a generation as an international Learning LAB working with global organizations.
“We’ve probably had tens of thousands of executives come from around the world. We helped launch E-Learning there. When the pandemic hit, I looked at my staff and said, ‘OK, go home.’ I gave them computers and lights and screens and after a couple of months predicted, well, we’re not going to go back to regular work soon. We looked at each other and said: maybe this is the time to sell the building.
“After we put the building up for sale, Franklin Community Center was intrigued and one of their board members, Stacie Arpey, and her husband Michael decided they really wanted them to have it and gave them a million dollar donation to get to the price, and Cathy and I lowered (the asking price) by many hundreds of thousands of dollars because we couldn’t think of a better buyer for it than Franklin,” Masie says.
“What I like about Franklin is that they service people who have deep and continuing needs as well as people who have newly arrived at the point of need,” Masie says. “I think we need to be quick to respond to people when they enter that and help put them on a pathway to becoming more self-sustaining. And Franklin does that. The other thing is they work a lot with kids.”
For Masie, the present world continues via video, having conducted keynotes for tens of thousands of people during the pandemic, right from his piano room at home in Saratoga Springs.
“They do so much in that cramped building they’re in now – to have that 10,000 square feet of space, it’s going to be exciting to see what they can do,” said Masie, who conducted a walk-through with FCC staff this week.
“This new home for FCC will help ensure that families in Saratoga Springs having an inviting place to receive the resources of FCC for years to come,” Stacie Arpey said in a statement.
The transition will happen gradually allowing FCC to ensure there are no disruptions to the services provided. The plan is to maintain the current venues and begin adapting some of the organization’s programs into the new venue. “In the beginning of 2021 our goal as a Board will be to really delve into that and see how we can be more efficient and make things easier to access for the folks who use our services. We want to make sure that we make things better for Franklin and for the entire community,” says Cushing, who has been with FCC for 18 years.
“COVID has obviously turned everything upside down and has disrupted all of our lives, but we have a unique perspective: we get to see the other side of it, and I have to tell you how heart-warming it has been to see our community come together to make sure that nobody has to go without,” Cushing says. “We were scared to death when it started and we saw our numbers going through the roof. We didn’t even know if we would be able to serve everyone that came to us.
“Every day we would post our biggest needs on social media and we have a contactless drop-off in the front of our building and every day when we would come in, it would be overflowing with the things we had asked for. We never had to turn anybody away, because people were so generous. This community is absolutely amazing. I think Stacie and Mike embody everything hat our community is and Cathy and Elliott – everybody made it possible, it’s such a group effort and it’s wonderful to see.”
The Michael and Stacie Arpey Family Community Center /Franklin Community Center is in fundraising mode and need just under $1 million to complete their expansion campaign which would include costs for moving and potential renovations to the space. For more information or to contribute to the campaign go to: www.franklincommunitycenter.org.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — For the 15th consecutive year, the Skidmore College community has come together to assist local residents and families through the Skidmore Cares community service program.
This year, Skidmore faculty, staff and students donated nearly 3,000 food items and more than 3,400 school supplies and personal care items - including 2,130 face masks - for Saratoga County community organizations. In addition, monetary donations to Skidmore Cares and community agencies totaled nearly $800.
To help ensure the health and safety of all involved, the annual campus-wide event was modified this year, encouraging individuals to drop off donations at outdoor locations on campus in early November.
Skidmore employees organized and delivered the contributions to 10 local community service agencies: Shelters of Saratoga, Franklin Community Center, Mary’s Haven, Saratoga Economic Opportunity Council, Wellspring, Corinth Central School District, Saratoga Springs City School District PATHS, the Latino Advocacy Program, the Salvation Army and Saratoga Center for the Family.
The donations come at a critical time for local residents and agencies facing challenges created or intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Founded in 2006, Skidmore Cares has now raised more than $122,000 for community causes and distributed nearly 60,000 food, personal care and school supplies items.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — With the clock ticking to a midnight deadline that would have installed what Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan called a “skeletal budget” as proposed in October, the City Council Nov. 30 staged a Special Meeting during which it unanimously approved a less austere 2021 budget that maintains essential city services and preserves city jobs and salaries.
The initial budget proposed in October was set at $41.9 million – a $7 million reduction to the 2019 plan. The amended 2021 budget approved this week calls for a $46.2 million spending plan. It may be further amended after Jan. 1, 2021.
The plan calls for a 6% property tax increase, meaning a home assessed at $200,000 will require an additional payment of $72 annually; a home assessed at $400,000 will see an annual payment increase of $144.
Commissioner Madigan said with a vaccine seemingly on the horizon, she is feeling “optimistic” about at least some form of tourism returning to the Spa City next year.
• The city announced a COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program Application period opens Dec. 7, with 25 to 51 grants of $5,000 - $10,000 to be awarded. Funds may be used for: payroll, rent or mortgage, utilities, equipment to facilitate the outdoor conduct of business during winter months, or supplies and equipment that reduce risk of coronavirus transmission.
Grant recipients must preserve at least 1 FTE job held by a low-income person - designated as less than $33,950/year - for at least six months.
The COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program, administered locally by the City’s Office of Community Development (OCD), was funded by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. All applicants must agree to federal program requirements. For full guidelines, eligibility information, and application forms go to: saratoga-springs.org.
• The comment period for Draft 2 of the UDO has been extended and the public is invited to submit comments through Friday, Dec. 11.
Members of the City’s UDO project team led six public Q&A sessions during the 60-plus days that Draft 2 has been available for review. Draft 2 documents and maps, including video recordings and presentation slides, are available on the UDO web page on the city’s website for review.
It is anticipated that a final draft of the UDO will be released and submitted to the County and City Land Use Boards for advisory opinions, prior to being presented to Council for a vote during the first quarter of 2021.
• A meeting of the Police Reform Task Force will be held at Saratoga Music Hall and livestreamed on the city website at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
Changing from our current Commission form of government to the proposed City Manager + Wards system would be an undesirable change for Saratoga Springs at any time. To do that now in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis is folly and even dangerous. The commission form has helped Saratoga Springs be the most successful city in upstate New York. It allows all city voters to choose city residents every two years who will both make policy and also act as department heads delivering services. Elected officials are held directly accountable by the electorate for services provided to the city.
In addition, because they run departments, council members are highly knowledgeable about the workings of the city when they make policy decisions. Since departments have many intersecting needs and interests and a majority is necessary to pass laws and the city budget, excellent communication and cooperation are major features of this form of government.
In contrast the charter proposal offers a plan that gives the authority to run the city to an unelected city manager who doesn’t even have to live in the city. The city will be divided into wards and Saratogians will only be able to vote for the mayor and one of the six other council members, greatly reducing citizens’ say in their government. The proposal also has a weak mayor who has few responsibilities and cannot even give any employee direction.
Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system.
The responsibilities of the mayor and four commissioners are clearly laid out in the current charter and easily understood: Mayor and Departments of Accounts, Public Safety, Finance, and Public Works. When someone has an issue or opportunity, they simply contact the appropriate commissioner. In short, no one has any idea about the potential new City Manager organization, how it will be structured, nor what it will cost.
Only four positions are mentioned in the proposed charter: the city manager, attorney, clerk, and assessor. The charter change financial analysis claims that one City Manager can replace four commissioners and five deputies, about 18,000 hours of work yearly.
But Ron Kim, co-chair of the charter change effort, thought differently when he was Commissioner of Public Safety and asked the city council for two deputies to handle all the work in his department, blowing up their current claim that this level of management can be axed.
Danger: The new city government won’t be revealed until after we have voted. The charter grants both a transition task force and then the City Manager the power to “establish, modify, or restructure City departments, offices, or agencies…”
Net: All decisions and the real costs will be made by an unelected group of people and won’t be known until after we vote.
Q. A question of money.
The City Manager + Wards System will be much more expensive resulting in higher taxes. Even the change proponents admit that a new city manager brought in from out-of-town would cost Saratogians $262,000 yearly.
Then they increased the Mayor’s salary 448% to $65,000 plus benefits for a significantly easier job that excludes all administrative responsibilities. Compare this to the $19,000 average salary of a Mayor in New York State in cities run by a City Manager. (Source: Jeff Altamari). Even proponent ‘It’s Time Saratoga’ admits that the Mayor will receive this $65,000 for a part time job; saying the Mayor could concurrently hold another job. That doesn’t show much respect for taxpayers.
But wait, it gets worse. The pro-charter group has not disclosed to the public the real cost of a City Manager + Wards government. Their so-called financials leave out $760,000 of yearly costs including replacing the Deputy Commissioners, our city’s key managers which they arbitrarily eliminated without even interviewing; an Assistant City Manager; and an Internal Audit which is required in the charter but was “mistakenly” left out of their costs.
Remember that the charter is only a skeleton concept with 4 employees which will be completed by an unknown and unelected Task Force, which is one of two transition committees which would be authorized to hire staff including lawyers.
Transition costs are not even estimated by the change proponents. But any incremental transition costs during this pandemic will require firing city employees or increasing taxes. As both the Mayor and Commissioner of Finance said Tuesday night: The city has no money for charter expenses.The people proposing this change owe it to the public to disclose the real costs of this charter.
Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government.
Currently, there is a high level of transparency about what our elected officials are (and are not) accomplishing. Since our government services are delivered by 5 departments including the Mayor and 4 Commissioners, it’s simple and efficient to contact the appropriate city official to address our problems. And every one of these elected officials has a report card every two years when voters can retain or fire them.
The City Manager + Wards charter is undemocratic, unresponsive, and not transparent. The City Manager who would run Saratoga Springs is appointed so he (we use the male pronoun since 83% of the City Managers are men) cannot be voted out if citizens are unhappy with how the city is being run.
We would only be able to vote for 2 of the 7 elected officials making decisions about providing services and raising taxes. Today, we have influence over every elected official because we vote whether or not to retain all of them every two years. The Wards system eliminates our leverage to impact our city government.
The proposed charter creates a disastrous bottleneck which will keep residents from getting their problems addressed. Residents contact their Ward politician who can only contact the City Manager who, when he has time, passes the request on to the right department. The Ward politicians and even the Mayor are expressly forbidden to work with any city employee except the City Manager, thereby delaying residents receiving city services and answers to their questions. The City Manager + Wards system is less transparent, less effective, less efficient, and less democratic.
For more information, go to: saratogaworks.org.
The present form of government in Saratoga Springs is comprised of five departments, each headed by a separate elected official who performs both administrative and legislative functions. This system is inherently inefficient and expensive, leading to both gaps in and duplication of services. A survey of 100 City professional staff in 2016 reported that they spend 30% of their time navigating these five “silos” of city government. Clearly, our city has outgrown this system. The proposed new Charter consolidates all administrative units under a professional manager. The manager would be hired by and be accountable to the City Council, comprised of six neighborhood-based elected City Councilmembers (reflecting the Charter’s proposed six wards) and presided over by a city-wide elected Mayor. This Reform would bring efficiency to the administration, and accountability through representation and separation of legislative powers from administrative responsibilities. The proposal on the ballot was initiated by dozens of volunteers and more than 1,500 citizens who petitioned for this opportunity to vote.
Q. A question of governing. What the proposed new form of governing would mean vs. the current form – and why the position you advocate would be best compared to the opposing system.
City administrative offices, now divided among five separately elected Commissioners and the Mayor, would be managed as one administration—much like every other city, town and village in NYS--led by an experienced, professional manager. One team not five means less bickering and finger pointing. Clarity will benefit citizens and businesses who need answers from the city. The present Commissioners and their political deputies would be eliminated. But, the remaining top civil service professionals would report to the City Manager. The City Council, chaired by the Mayor, would set the budget, adopt policies, pass ordinances and oversee the administration through a short-term employment agreement with the City Manager. Members of the Council, elected from the six neighborhood-based Wards, would be the “ombudsperson” for their constituents. This would allow the Council to set priorities that reflect the needs of the people, not the prerogatives of each Department’s political leadership. The Mayor, elected citywide for a four year term, would be expected to provide policy leadership, oversight of the City Manager, and represent the city in intergovernmental relations.
Q. A question of money.
Initial savings would be at least $100,000. This figure is derived by eliminating the current Commissioners and their political deputies, salary plus health and pension costs: $760,000. Positions required in the New Charter would add to $440,928, including the City Manager and Mayor (salary plus benefits), and six Councilmembers (salary with no benefits). Other positions included in this calculation are an Assistant City Manager and the cost of an Internal Auditor. Competitive compensation for these positions would bring the total net savings to about $100,000. No other positions are required to be added or eliminated in the proposed Charter. Any additions or reductions of staff would be made only by the elected City Council seated in 2022.
Long term, consolidation of administrative units under the City Manager will reduce the 30% inefficiency which the professional staff reported to the 2016-17 Charter Commission.
The new Charter also eliminates the present lifetime free healthcare benefit (free premium, no co-pays) for elected officials who serve 10 years or more, which can cost taxpayers $500,000 or more for each such official over time.
Q. Constituency/ residents ability to reach out to their leaders and officials. A question of transparency and open government.
Voters in the six neighborhood wards will elect the members of the City Council to two-year terms. Each councilmember would be the neighborhood’s “ombudsperson” for all functions of city government—in other words, “one-stop shopping” for people seeking answers from city hall. Presently, citizens and businesses are punted from office to office for simple permits. Public Safety and Public Works leaders have even disputed who is responsible to clear dead animals from the roadways.
Each new City Councilmember will represent about 3,000 3,000 voters. The wards would be drawn up by a bi-partisan commission after every decennial census. If the upcoming 2020 census report is too late for the start of the NYS Election calendar, a backup ward map is included in the proposed Charter that would be used only for the 2021 election.
Today, a candidate for city council (Commissioner of Accounts, Finance, Public Safety, Public Works, Mayor) must run city-wide campaigning directly to more than 18,000 voters—an expensive proposition. The new Charter enables city government to tap into more of our community’s talent and brain power because running in just one of the six districts will be much less expensive than running city-wide.
No longer will Commissioners work almost full time and leave aside their day-jobs. The new Council will be citizen-legislators, bringing everyday experience and perspective to our city government.
TERM LIMITS: All elected positions will be term-limited to 12 years.
For more information, go to: commonsensesaratoga.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The newly restored Saratoga Music Hall opened to the public last Tuesday when it hosted a city council meeting that featured the first public hearing of the proposed 2021 budget.
The proposed annual budget seeks to adjust to a near $7 million shortfall, due to what councilmembers referred to as “this COVID economy.” The 2021 proposal stands at just under $41.9 million, compared to the $48.7 million budget adopted late last year, for 2020. On the table: a 6% increase in property tax rates – which would increase the property tax payment on a home assessed at $200K by $6 per month, or $72 per year – as well as potential layoffs and budget cuts across all departments.
“These are very trying times,” Mayor Meg Kelly said during the meeting. “It’s $7 million short. We all have to take our hits (but) I think together we can all pull this off.”
This week’s public commentary largely focused on the potential Recreation Department budget – a topic amplified as a result of an email apparently sent from the recreation department, and circulated among thousands of residents during the previous weekend that pleaded with residents to attend City Council meetings and budget workshops to express concerns.
“Recreation in Saratoga Springs is at stake and we NEED YOUR HELP” read the email, “Ask our City to NOT DEFUND recreation.” Many did. With public seating limited to less than three dozen participants at one time due to COVID protocols, speakers briefly addressed the council regarding potential cuts to recreation programs then exited the building, allowing others who waited in line outside to enter and speak. The public hearing segment lasted approximately one hour. Members of the council warned of the danger of isolating one particular department and stressed the importance of looking at the budget as a whole.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation about the budget and about recreation in particular,” said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who first presented the proposed 2021 Comprehensive Budget to the City Council earlier this month. “In this COVID economy the (emailed) communication lacked context and it lacked details and it lacked a lot of what we’re doing right now at the City Council… it was all over social media, and it was pure anger, rage, and panic, and that is unfortunate.”
“We all, in our own way, have a personal connection to the Rec Department and the tremendous effect it has on children’s mental health,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who explained she has four children aged between 4 and 10, and realizes the impact of the recreation in the city. “I don’t want to set the tone here that we’re only out for who we represent. When you put out just one tiny piece of what the budget is going to look like and you play to people’s emotions to make it seem as if we don’t care about our kids and that that’s the first thing that’s going to go - it really sets a whole different tone for the budget season that I find regretful. The whole thing is we’re working together to make sure we have the best results for everyone in the city,” she said. “What I encourage people to do is to go to the individual workshops to understand what it means to the entire city.”
Budgeted expenses for the city’s Recreation Department have been reduced under the proposed budget, but not eliminated. There is currently $1.2 million in the budget, maintaining the costs of the Director of Recreation, one staff person, and building and grounds maintenance and utilities. “This means recreations programs cannot incur any additional costs to the city. It does not mean that Recreation is shutting down,” Madigan said.
Madigan has proposed increasing property tax rates by 6% and to minimize the number of required layoffs, the budget contains a 10% reduction in all city employee salary lines. “With a 10% pay cut we can limit the layoffs, but they are still significant: 25% reduction in Public Works labor lines and 15% in Public Safety - police and fire.” Basically, she said, a lower pay cut requires more layoffs, fewer layoffs will require a larger pay cut.
“We all appreciate recreation and need recreation, but we all have to get together as a council and see what we can do,” Mayor Kelly said. “Essential services are always first.”
“Right now, we do not have those essential services figured out. That has to be the first priority,” Commissioner Dalton said. “Water, sewer, roads, fire, EMS and police. Unless we can assure those essential services are intact – we have nothing. We can’t operate. You won’t be able to drive to the ice rink. We won’t be able to respond to a medical emergency. So that has to be our first priority as a city. Once we get those covered, then we can look at anything else.”
The Saratoga Springs Recreation Commission is a 7-member board of community volunteers appointed by the mayor to oversee the Recreation Department. Mayor Kelly pointed to Recreation Department Administrative Director John Hirliman. “We have to see if we can do this as budget-neutral and I have John Hirliman, who has always worked magic in this department, and as a council we all believe in his abilities,” she said. “I have great faith in my team to pull some programs together.”
“We all understand the tremendous financial crisis we face due to the pandemic. I’m going to work my tail off to make sure we have recreation programming,” Hirliman said.
Separate budget hearings are tentatively scheduled to take place this week involving the Public Safety Department, the Department of Public Works, and the Mayor/ Recreation departments. Visit the city’s website to confirm times and dates of those meetings, at: saratoga-springs.org.
A second public hearing of the budget will take place in November. Revisions of the potential budget may be made through the end of November, at which point the 2021 Comprehensive Budget will be adopted.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Chow Bella, an indoor, climate controlled canine social club, has opened its doors for business. The dog park is located at 50 West Ave.
The 7,500 square-foot space consists of a 3,000 square-foot fenced in dog park that has tunnels, bridges and toys scattered throughout. The front of the store features a 2,200 square-foot retail space that sells premium dog food brands, beds, leashes & collars and even costumes for dogs- just in time for Halloween. There is also a small café & seating area where owners can unwind and watch their furry friends have fun with other well-behaved dogs.
In addition to the dog park and retail space, Chow Bella features a salon style grooming space with two on-staff groomers, and several self-wash stations. Hours are 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Mon-Fri., 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information go to: www.chowbella.store.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — An expansion at the Excelsior Park complex is being reviewed by the city Planning Board.
The area of review is off Excelsior Avenue, located north of the VFW Post 420 in a wooded area bordered by Spring Run Trail. Excelsior Park Phase 1 has been constructed and Phase 2 has previously been approved and is under construction.
The Excelsior Park Project currently under review proposes a mixed-use development that includes 163 residential units, 36,200 square feet of commercial space, a banquet facility, spa, swimming pool, and a 60-room hotel with a 200-seat restaurant.
The residential component includes a variety of single and multi-bedroom apartments, townhouses and condominiums. The original application for the project was made in November 2017 and first presented to the Planning Board in early 2018.
Plans call for the construction of three new structures – the largest of which will stand 50 feet high and 250 feet wide. The Excelsior Park expansion is anticipated to occur over several phases and cover nearly 35 acres with a start date of June 2021.
The group presenting the proposal is represented by The Chazen Companies - a multi-disciplinary firm providing clients in both the private and public sectors with a everything from land surveying, planning, and landscape architecture to construction services.