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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Public Safety Commissioner Holds Public Forum to Work Toward More Open Government

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen held a public forum October 23 in his efforts to make local government a more transparent and open process.

 

The forum was held at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, and Mathiesen was joined by Saratoga Springs Police Chief Christopher Cole and Fire Chief Robert Williams, with other various city officials in attendance as well.

Mathiesen began the evening by reviewing various accomplishments and policies his department has supported since his term began in January. He covered topics such as changes and improvements made to the police and fire departments, control of crime and noise in the downtown district, and other similar topics.

The fire and EMS departments have had better response times and positive public reactions, Mathiesen said. The Lake Avenue Firehouse also received a new concrete floor and will continue to have ongoing improvements at the station.

A hot topic of the evening was the police department’s overtime numbers, with some attendees asking how much police overtime costs the taxpayers.

“Our biggest problem with overtime is that we are short seven police officers because of layoffs,” Mathiesen answered. “I believe that to eliminate this problem we need to bring that staff back.”

Mathiesen and Chief Cole did add, however, that the police department asks not-for-profit groups and other organizations that hire police as security after-hours to reimburse them for the overtime costs.

“We ask a lot of groups to pay for overtime when events occur that cause overtime, because citizens are paying for overtime on the weekends and we need to make sure our taxpayers aren’t responsible to that,” Mathiesen said.

Another issue that was talked about in-depth at the forum was the police department’s building, which is currently under analysis by an architect who will determine whether or not it would be cheaper to repair the building’s damages or to find a new location for the department. The building, which has been used by the police department since the late 1800s, is not up to modern standards, according to Mathiesen. The commissioner used the jail cell toilets as an example of the expensive repairs the building needs.

“Two weeks ago one of the jail cell toilets broke, and we had to pay $3,000 to fix it because the plumbers couldn’t fix it normally like they would with a modern toilet,” Mathiesen said. “Sometimes it costs more money to repair a building than it would to just build a new one.”

However, Mathiesen said that he is currently lacking both council and community support for a new police station.

“If we do end up deciding it’s too expensive, maybe we’ll revisit it, but it’s awfully hard to do that at this point in time,” Mathiesen said. “Budgets are still tight—our city is doing well, but you have to be careful. I think we should set aside money [for the building] in anticipation of something happening down the road.”

Mathiesen added that a new fire station for the east side of Saratoga Springs would take precedent over a new police building. An attendee at the meeting did ask about a new fire station for the area, exclaiming “Everyone else has a new fire station but us!”

Mathiesen said that the department “is working on it.”

“We set aside the money for this project last year,” he said. “We just need a place to put in [a new fire station].”

Mathiesen also talked about his goals for the public safety department this year, which included improving the fire department and EMS’s coordination of services with fully-trained dispatchers, continue to repair and restore West Avenue and Lincoln Avenue fire stations, and continue to seek locations for a third fire station that will serve the east side and improve response times.

For police, Mathiesen wants to look for ways to raise revenue to reimburse the city for overtime expenses spent on police working weekend nights in the downtown district. He also wants to continually petition license authorities to look carefully at renewals for liquor licenses for establishments on Caroline Street. Other miscellaneous goals mentioned were evaluating truck routes so there will be less traffic in downtown roads, having better negotiations and input for labor contracts, a new building for the police department, and possibly requiring owners of vacant homes to pay a fee that would increase each year that the home remains vacant.

The public forum ended on a positive note, with attendees thanking Mathiesen for being accessible to the community by holding the public meeting. Mathiesen said another of his goals for this year is to work for a more open government.

“Part of an [open government] is to have meetings like this,” Mathiesen said. “One thing this city is lacking is the opportunity for people to make their feelings known. I know there are more people out there who want their voices heard.”

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