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SARATOGA SPRINGS – Local governments around the nation are increasingly seeking ways to curb energy costs, and finally – between improved technologies and federal and state incentives – the reduction of a municipality’s carbon footprint has become both affordable and fiscally appealing. This is very good news for taxpayers, especially in a city like Saratoga Springs, with residents who are committed to lower energy costs without sacrificing environmental conservation and beauty.
The Saratoga Springs City Council has launched two initiatives that will save homeowners, businesses, the City, and ultimately taxpayers significant energy and financial resources in the short and long-term. Additionally, the City has formed a Solar Access Committee to research additional solar energy opportunities.
Solarize Saratoga is a volunteer-driven campaign sponsored by the City of Saratoga Springs, led by Mayor Joanne Yepsen, and New York State to make it easy and affordable for households and small businesses to “go solar” utilizing funds provided by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) as part of the statewide NY-SUN Initiative. Community partners Sustainable Saratoga and Green Conscience Home and Garden have signed on to promote awareness of the campaign.
“The community is coming together to make it easier and more affordable for Saratoga area homeowners and businesses to install solar PV systems,” said Yepsen. Combining the power of community with a smart group purchasing strategy, Solarize helps everyone learn about solar technology, benefits, choices and financing options—together.
The City selected two firms - Apex Solar Power, headquartered in Queensbury, and Hudson Solar, headquartered in Rhinebeck - through a competitive process to install solar PV systems in Saratoga Springs and adjacent communities. They are offering discounted group pricing for those who purchase solar before mid-October through the Solarize Saratoga program.
Homeowners and businesses who sign up for solar installations by October 7 through the program will be able to take advantage of group rates below market prices. The more customers who sign up, the lower the price will be for all participants.
Solarize Saratoga is a nine-month program. The enrollment period began in July 2015, with the last installations wrapping up in December of 2015. For more information, visit www.solarizesaratoga.org.
Spa Solar Park
The City of Saratoga Springs awarded a bid to SunEdison on May 21, 2013 to work with the City to convert the City’s capped Weibel Avenue Landfill into a solar energy production site known as the Spa Solar Park Development.
According to Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan in a report to the City Council, this is the City’s project, but SunEdison will build, own and maintain a 2 megawatt AC solar array on the City Landfill for an estimated 20 years. The 2MW solar array is estimated to generate electricity equal to about 35-40 percent of the City’s current electricity usage for municipal operations.
Sun Edison’s financial model includes funding from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA), which was received in October 2014 through the Governor’s NY-Sun Competitive PV Program. It also includes funding from the sale of electricity to the City. Since this is a “remote net metering” project, the actual electricity produced by the City’s solar panels will be directed to National Grid, which will provide a monetary credit to the City for amounts generated; the City, in turn, will pay SunEdison for electricity that is directed to National Grid. This payment is governed by a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (“PPA”), which was approved by the Council in December 2014 and fully executed in January 2015.
“The electricity price the City will pay to SunEdison remains the same over its entire course,” said Madigan. “The City saves money when the PPA price is lower than the National Grid credit amount, which is the anticipated result. Regardless, having a 20-year price allows for long range budget planning, as well as reduces the City’s carbon footprint.”
“There are tremendous opportunities through federal credits or state agencies like NYSERDA that enable local governments to save taxpayer dollars not only on their next electric bill, but for years down the line. We have seen a shift to renewable energy work wonders for private homeowners or local businesses like Stewart’s, and government at all levels should strongly consider this model as a way to save money, green the environment, and reduce our dangerous dependency on fossil fuels,” said U.S. Congressman (N-21) Paul Tonko.
In 2013, Stewart’s Shops announced it would install a 600-kilowatt photovoltaic rooftop solar energy system at its manufacturing and distribution center near Saratoga Springs. Stewart’s took advantage of federal tax credits and a rebate offered through NYSERDA to offset the cost of the $1.5 million project.
According to Stewarts Shops spokeswoman Maria D’Amelia, “It’s doing well, the project is generating about 7 percent of our plant’s electricity needs, saving about $3,000 a month. The only thing that gets a little in the way, which made us slightly under projections, was the bad winter which gave us a bit of a backup with snow covering the panels. Otherwise, it’s been very positive, with very little maintenance, and we are very pleased.”
Solar Access Committee
At the June 2 City Council meeting, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced the formation of a committee to review the solar landscape including advances in science, technology, and how other communities handle solar access in laws and regulations. “I do think there are more things to look at than what we’ve considered so far,” said Madigan.
Saratoga Springs resident Larry Toole chairs the Solar Access Committee. He holds an undergraduate degree in meteorology and is also a board member with Sustainable Saratoga, but makes it clear that he is on the Solar Committee as a Saratoga Springs citizen.
“I’m interested in helping the City best understand the solar landscape in today’s world, anticipating where we might be in the future,” said Toole. “That’s dependent on lots of things, certainly the projected growth in solar is going to be quite significant, such as the signs of global warming initiatives and state and federal regulations of emissions.”
The goal of the committee is to provide context for that, as well as look at best practices regarding solar access rights, solar zoning issues, and other issues that other local governments have addressed. The committee will issue a report with recommendations in a couple of months.
“In phase two of the Spa Solar Park there is potential for the City to add community solar,” said Toole. “This means that businesses and homeowners who do not have properties conducive to solar panels could instead purchase solar power through the Spa Solar Park array, or some other future array.”
Looking into the solar future, Toole sees a day when no trees will be cut back or down to avoid shading solar panels on roofs, no ordinances will need to be changed to manage infill shadowing of neighboring panels, and no homeowner or business will need solar panels on their roofs.
“Historical buildings would even be able to have solar energy,” said Toole. “Everyone would be able to purchase clean energy through a community scale project.”
For that to happen, however, New York State would have to pass legislation that require operational and billing changes in the power industry.
“It’s inevitable that the power industry will have to go through a transformation in the next 20 to 30 years,” said Toole. “If President Obama’s mandate to the industry to reduce greenhouse gases by 32 percent by 2030 survives the courts, they will start owning more utility-scale renewable energy projects as part of their industry portfolio. When we’re 25 years down the road, 80 percent of the energy you buy from National Grid will be clean energy, so there won’t be a need to buy solar panels for rooftops. The power industry’s business model will change, but that has to start with net billing and they won’t do it unless required to by the state.”
Toole said that most indications are that the state is moving toward authorizing a community solar future, and once that happens, Saratoga Springs is likely to jump on board. This scenario is one of many that could be included in the committee’s report to the City.
“I’m excited about the potential of what the committee can do,” said Toole. “We have a good cross section of concerned citizens, businesses, people with expertise in earth science and solar technology, plus support from the City, so hopefully we con provide useful information to incorporate in the future. You combine the ebb and flow between the Solarize Saratoga concept of discounts on rooftop solar, plus City savings on the Spa Solar Park, and add community solar one day, and we still have only begun to see what a solar future for Saratoga can look like.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Springs City Council, which met May 19, passed a new city ordinance effective immediately that requires street performers to stay within ten feet of the curb, among other changes including noise limits and performance times. Critics cited existing ordinances as sufficient, and after weeks of discussion, the “busker rules” ordinance passed Tuesday with fewer changes than originally proposed.
Police Chief Gregory Veitch was invited to present at the meeting to address concerns raised in the community and at previous meetings regarding minor violations such as loitering and open containers. Veitch assured those present that the department will not be making mass arrests, and clarified that such violations must be seen by an officer in order for an officer to make an arrest. If witnessed by a civilian, that person must go to the station and file a form. He spoke about striking a balance between Constitutional freedoms and violations, saying officers will certainly uphold the new ordinance but cannot be carrying a measuring tape. He encouraged continued communication between all parties as a positive course of action.
Other City Council business highlights for the evening included the appointment of Jim Gold to the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, and the retirement of Chief Water Treatment Operator Tom Kirkpatrick was announced. Greg Johnson will be promoted from within the department to replace Kirkpatrick.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen also provided an update on the centennial celebration and the City’s recognition as a Walk Friendly Community. Commissioner Michele Madigan led the finance discussions, which included the NYS Tax Freeze Credit Program, which potentially allows for homeowners to be eligible for a property tax rebate, and the City’s Government Efficiency Plan.
The Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Five-Year Plan was discussed, and the Council approved the Housing Authority Salary. The City Council also voted to refer the Zoning Text Amendment to Include Golf-Clubhouse Definition to the Planning Board for an advisory opinion, which is nonbinding.
Sarah Burger to Vie for Public Safety Post
SARATOGA SPRINGS –The 2015 city election season heated up early with an announcement on Tuesday, Feb. 24 that Sarah J. Burger, former City Attorney, stating that she wanted to make Saratoga Springs a better place to live and do business, will seek the post of Commissioner of Public Safety.
This announcement sets up a primary battle for the Democratic Party endorsement against two-time incumbent Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, who has indicated he will seek re-election this fall.
In her announcement, Burger stressed her family history in the area, which dates back to the Revolutionary War, as well as her experience with labor / management negotiations and pledged to keep an open mind on issues while listening to the entire community in her decision making. While she did not get into specific campaign platform issues in this announcement, she did criticize the Public Safety department for “bad decisions that have led to legal challenges.” Later, she cited the recent attempt to create a district, generally around Caroline Street, outside of which 4 a.m. bar closings would not be permitted, as “discriminatory and ill-advised.”
Burger declined comment on the city’s sale/exchange of parcels on the Eastern Ridge and the Collamer lot at 500 Broadway, stating that she was City Attorney at the time.
Yet it would be hard to visualize a campaign in which this will not be a subject of contention as the election season goes forward, as this is one such subject under litigation.
Currently a labor attorney at Cooper, Erving & Savage, LLP, with offices in Saratoga Springs, Burger was appointed by Mayor Joanne Yepsen to be City Attorney in January of 2014. She resigned from that post abruptly last September, citing a “fundamental disagreement” on how to handle the legal affairs at City Hall.
Burger stated that she would be also seeking endorsements of other political parties as well. If elected, she would be the first female to hold the position of Commissioner of Public Safety in the 100-year history of Saratoga Springs.
Burger was introduced to a gathering of her supporters at the Empire Room at Maestros at the Van Dam Restaurant by her long-time friend, Gary Dake, president of Stewart’s Shops, who stated that the conduct of city council business should not be based on ideology, but balance.
On Being Mayor: Historic Panel Looks Back On City’s History
By Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS – In conjunction with the centennial (officially on April 7, 2015) of the incorporation of Saratoga Springs as a city, on Thursday, September 18 the Saratoga Springs Public Library convened an esteemed panel of 11 current and former Mayors of the city, whose tenure dated back to the mid-1960s.
These mayors reflected on their experiences in their time in office – the challenges, accomplishments and rewards during their time in office. In attendance were former Mayors James Murphy, Raymond Watkin, A.C. Riley, J. Michael O’Connell, Ken Klotz, Michael Lenz, Valerie Keehn and Scott Johnson, as well as the current Mayor – Joanne Yepsen. The panel was moderated deftly with good humor by Dale Willman, who noted that the only topic that was out of bounds in the wide-ranging discussion was “charter change,” although some on the panel got their thoughts in on that subject as well.
Everyone on the panel, as expected, brought a wealth of insight and perspective on their office and their role in the city’s governance.
Mayors Murphy and Watkin held office at a time when there were no political parties on the council. Mayor Murphy, who was the youngest Mayor in the city’s history, taking office at age 28, felt that it was better to have a non-partisan approach to governing the city. Mayor Watkin agreed, noting that in the 1970s he felt it was an exciting time to govern, he characterized it as an age of transitioning government “from the bosses to the people.”
People tend to wax nostalgic about the good old days, but it was by no means a simpler time for these Mayors. Watkin cited the fact that after taking office, the specter of Saratoga losing it’s exclusivity of 24 racing dates loomed large until through his and other lobbyists efforts resulted in then-Governor Carey intervening on Saratoga’s behalf. “We were in trouble.” He said.
A gas crisis resulted in Watkin’s institution of an odd/even system and also the initiation of a special assessment district for the downtown core to counteract suburban sprawl such as the development of the Pyramid Mall.
Murphy recalled his decision to remove the parking meters on Broadway in a similar vein to spur downtowns. Murphy listed among his proudest achievements the development of the Design Review Commission; annexation of land from the Town of Greenfield for what would become the new Skidmore College campus and getting sidewalks for the High School along West Circular Street so students “didn’t need to walk in the street.”
A. C. Riley came to learn about public service through her volunteer work, which continues today with the County Economic Opportunity Council and other organizations. She recalled that shortly taking office, she walked by a street cave-in near the Adirondack Trust and thought “this is MY hole in the ground” now. She was most proud of the development of the library property where this meeting was occurring, citing it as key element in the development of the downtown core.
J. Michael O’Connell recalled being proud of many things while in office, primarily how he was able to evaluate all sides of an issue and communicate with his fellow commissioners, regardless of party lines. “You were always mindful that you need three votes to do anything,” he said. He noted that sometimes, even under the commission form of government, the mayor had to be strong in office, such as when he had to jawbone the New York Racing Association into paying their fair share of the costs for a new East Avenue sewer line.
Ken Klotz listed several accomplishments that he looked back on with pride, the adoption of the 2001 Comprehensive Plan, Universal Preservation Hall’s restoration and the revitalization of the Beekman Street area chief among them. Many on the panel were seen to nod in agreement when he noted the unique aspect of governing a city with such a high level of citizen involvement.
Michael Lenz, a Republican, looked back and noted that he was inspired by Watkin, a Democrat when he was mayor and how he operated “street corner politics” – talking to citizens about the issues and concerns of the day - outside Lenz’ family pharmacy building, in which Watkin was also a retail tenant. Later, current Mayor Joanne Yepsen, a Democrat, noted that she had reached out to A.C. Riley (Republican) for advice and council shortly after being elected last November.
All the panelists discussed governing under crisis. Lenz noted that on 9/11, Mayor Klotz was in the hospital in a medically induced coma, necessitating him (as Commissioner of Finance) acting in his stead, noting that he worked with Mayor Klotz’s wife Karen and the other commissioners to keep the city functioning during that time. Valerie Keehn recalled the region-wide blackout during Dance Flurry weekend shortly after taking office as requiring special action that only a mayor could provide. “I was everywhere, helping all I could, but people urged me to interact with the media… at times like that, people want to see the Mayor. You’re the face of the community.” Later, Mayor Yepsen cited the death of Nancy Pitts and the establishment of a Code Blue facility that required her to act even before officially in office.
Scott Johnson noted that being the face of the community “turns every 5 minute walk into a 20 minute one” as people want to be heard on what is important to them. “We may not agree, but it’s important that you are open to hearing all sides.” Johnson, who served for three two-year terms, said he was proud to oversee moving projects forward, citing the Recreation Center and Woodlawn Parking Garage as two salient examples. Interestingly, he noted that while the job can involve long hours and take its toll, “It’s really harder on our spouses and family than on us. They are the ones who make the real sacrifices so we can serve.” He said.
Moving projects forward was sentiment echoed in a different manner by Lenz, noting that many projects are determined to be worthwhile regardless of who holds office. He cited the Waterfront Park - a 100-acre parcel had advanced through four mayoral administrations (two Democrats and two Republicans) and was now to the point where a groundbreaking was scheduled for Monday, September 22 (see page 4.)
While there was a lot of agreement generally on the panel, one issue they were unanimous about was that the job didn’t pay enough! The current mayor’s salary is $14,000/year, up from $2,500 during Murphy’s and Watkin’s time in office.
But you could tell by the pride in their collective voices that money was far down on the list of considerations when it came to public service.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 16, Mayor Joanne Yepsen announced that the long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the Waterfront Park project, on the Northwest corner of Saratoga Lake, would occur on Monday, September 22 at 11 a.m. The public is invited. “We are looking forward to seeing this parcel developed into a major community asset.” She said.
Also, the Mayor made several appointments, including the initial round of appointments to her Junior Committee, which is composed of students and young people who will be involved in community service projects. The initial appointees to this committee are: Katya Leidig, Alexander Shaw, Kaitlyn O’Donnell, Ethan North, Emily MacDougall, Sarah Marlin, Serena Egan, Michael Chille, Logan Briscoe and Lillian Doern.
Also appointed were John Ellis to the city’s Ethics Committee and Cheryl Smith to Recreation Commission. Re-appointed to the Community Development Citizens Advisory Board were Rick Ferguson, Pam Polacsek and Lu Lucas; while Elisabeth Garofalo was a new appointment to that Board.
Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan announced the first in a series of public hearings on the 2015 Comprehensive Budget. It will be on Tuesday, October 21 at 6:45 prior to the council meeting.
Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco announced that a hazardous waste collection day would take place on Saturday, October 11 near the Weibel Avenue skating rink. Pre-registration is required. The details and form is available for download on the city website: saratoga-springs.org
Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen invited the public to attend the next public safety forum next Thursday, September 25 at 7 p.m. Topics that the commissioner indicated he was seeking feedback on were the impact of the noise ordinance, the revised traffic pattern near the Saratoga Racecourse and Siro’s Restaurant, and the recent land transaction involving the Collamer parking lot on Broadway and a parcel East of Northway Exit 14.
Commissioner of Accounts John Franck had no agenda items, but got the biggest laugh of the night when he indicated that was because he had advance notice that there would be no TV cameras in attendance this evening.
- Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Bataan Death March of verbiage, pontification and blather about all things relating to the city’s status regarding the proposed Saratoga Casino and Raceway (SCR) expansion was taken to a new level of intensity this week.
We were first treated to a marathon City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 3, in which the mayor’s agenda item about the expansion did not get entertained until nearly 10 p.m. (note that the meeting started at 7 p.m.; note further that the mayor’s agenda is the first of five departments to report, followed by the county supervisors).
This meeting ended about 11:20 p.m., but after the item about SCR’s expansion I had had enough for one evening, thanks. Three plus hours is enough. Mind you, this was a discussion item. Nothing was actually decided.
A “special” public hearing on the next night (Wednesday) followed this — this one solely devoted to the expansion issues. I hoped that everyone got their comments in, for everyone should feel they had their say I guess.
But, at the risk of being characterized as “un-interested” or “un-involved” I admit I gave this one a pass altogether. I also cover arts and entertainment, and there was a great new jazz ensemble making its debut (look for a feature on them before their next appearance in a few weeks) on the same night.
Blast me if you want, but I think I made the right call. Good music wins out over hot air. Tell me, what would you do?
Now, we hear that there “might” be another “special” city council meeting, this time after Saratoga TODAY goes to press: it is tentatively scheduled for Friday, June 6 at 10 a.m. Unbelievable.
Perhaps something might actually be decided at this one. But from now on, your city council reporter will value both your time and my own. We will report on something that actually happens.
The crux of the issue, for those whose eyes are not totally glazed over at this point, is whether the city should assert itself as an involved agency in the review process, known as SEQRA, as opposed to “interested,” which in theory would give them the further right to vie for the lead agency status on this project, instead of the Gaming Commission and therefore greater oversight over what happens.
This would be triggered by filling out a form, stating that the city objects to the gaming commission being the lead agency. However, if this course is pursued, it is likely to generate a costly legal battle, which the city’s attorneys say they have no shot of winning.
So there you are. I have summarized nearly 600 hours of debate in two paragraphs. Yes, I might be glossing over some fine points, but who cares. The mayor believes that an ongoing dialogue with both SCR and the gaming commission can gain more than a legal fight. Time will tell if that is the right way to go.
None of the above should be construed as wanting to restrict anyone’s right to comment. The public comment period to the Gaming Commission extends until June 13 and I certainly encourage everyone who wants to express their opinion to do so.
Just don’t make me listen anymore, OK?
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The city council meeting on tax day – Tuesday, April 15 had an economic flavor as Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan delivered her year-end report for 2013. Pending a final audit, she reported generally good news for the city:
“For 2013, the City is required to have a fund balance between $4,044,002 and $6,066,003. Unaudited figures indicate that the surplus resulted in a fund balance that is in excess of the maximum amount by about $1.7 million.”
Ms. Madigan detailed many highlights among the individual line items, citing mortgage tax collection and the city’s ambulance program exceeding expectations on the revenue side.
There is a downside to an excessive surplus, in that residents are unduly burdened with a higher than necessary tax bill. Commissioner Madigan noted that, unforeseen circumstances aside, individual departments will need to be careful in their forecasts and adjust budgets, perhaps quarterly so that city residents are only billed for what is needed:
“We must strive to establish a balanced budget that adequately funds the delivery of solid essential services in a safe community… (Excess) funds should be returned to the taxpayers, possibly through reduced property tax rates if closer scrutiny of departmental budgets and expected revenues reveal that this would be sustainable.”
One recommendation that Commissioner Madigan had for some of the surplus was to invest in the city’s website, which appeared to have support of the council. Commissioner of Accounts John Franck felt it should be part of an overall upgrade in the city’s social media and communications strategy – a broad look into the best way to facilitate two-way communications between the city and it’s citizens.
In what was at least an ironic coincidence on “surplus night,” the council entertained and unanimously passed salary raises for two key positions: for the Administrative Director of Recreation (to $59,454) and Director of Risk and Safety (to just over $82,000). The council also established an hourly rate for a part-time Administrate Aide (at $15.38/hour) in the mayor’s office to support the city attorneys.
In fact, these raises came out of budgeted dollars, were revenue neutral (the recreation department gave up a part-time position that was unfilled for instance). In the case of Risk and Safety Director Marilyn Rivers, it was probably long overdue. Yet the timing was of these items is something some members in the audience next to me certainly took notice of.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen discussed Saratoga Casino and Raceway’s (SCR) $30 million expansion proposal, which she noted, was completely separate from any expanded gaming application “in the eyes of the state, and the city.”
SCR’s proposal involves a hotel, meeting space and an entertainment venue among other items. SCR had previously stated that they would submit their proposal to the city’s land use boards for review. Mayor Yepsen noted that the state Gaming Commission had named the city as an ‘involved agency’ and that “once they start the clock, the city has 30 days to respond.” Mayor Yepsen indicated that there might be a special council meeting called on this subject if necessary. She then circulated a proposal summary to the council members; the full proposal is available in the planning office for public inspection.
Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen detailed some changes to traffic light patterns on several important Broadway intersections. This was based on an extensive study of traffic patterns that examined various options to improve traffic flow through downtown.
The forthcoming changes are:
- At Broadway and Church Street, heading northbound on Broadway, a left turn light will be installed to facilitate westbound traffic on Church, expediting traffic towards Saratoga Hospital
- Also at this intersection, left turn signals from Church Street and from Lake Avenue onto Broadway will be changed from ‘lagging’ after the green light to ‘leading,’ or before the green light, bringing it in line with other intersections.
- An increased interval for pedestrian walk lights will precede the green light for vehicles at Broadway and Division, Washington, Spring and Congress Streets
- Sequential timing of lights on Broadway will be adjusted will the goal of smoothing North/South traffic flow on Broadway depending on conditions (time of day; heavy traffic days).
The commissioner said that these changes would be implemented in the next few weeks.
Commissioner Mathiesen also took note of our activities as watchdog on the permanent Committee on Wasting Council Time, which is actually the People’s time. The Commissioner, previously spotlighted for reading an entire op-ed article into the record and similar activities, noted that the award had been passed to Commissioner of Public Works (DPW) Anthony Scirocco on April 1, for reading his narrative on the history of the city’s water works, which appeared as prologue to the DPW annual report. Commissioner Mathiesen felt that the information Commissioner Scirocco conveyed was enlightening.
Well, not to stir this pot further, but to clarify, I am sure that the information was interesting, but it would much better for all concerned if Commissioner Scirocco had just submitted his report, called attention to this great chapter to read in it, etc.; but not actually read the whole thing at the end of a three-plus hour meeting. How many people do you think were actually listening at that point?
In fact, if this information is so compelling, why is it still not posted online over two weeks later? I’d love to read all this great stuff, but the DPW page still has the 2012 report up, not 2013.
While the April 15 meeting was very long, it was by necessity so, given an executive session and Commissioner Madigan’s annual report detail. It’s not the length; it’s the content – and the comportment. So the WCT committee will not issue a time-waster award for this meeting.
Instead, it will award its random “Special Award of Merit” to Supervisor Peter Martin, who, after waiting over four hours to speak, delivered the words the dwindling gallery longed to hear:
“I promise to be mercifully brief.”
And then he was! Kudos, Supervisor.
Never before had I felt so gleeful to walk out into an April blizzard. But I’ll be back on May 6, so you don’t have to be, citizens.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Tuesday, November 4 meeting of the Saratoga Springs City Council was notable both for its content and its length. Despite the fact that this meeting was less than half as long as the preceding one on October 15, the council was able to accomplish significant business while allowing for adequate discussion where it was relevant.
Chief among these items was the passage, by a 5-0 roll call vote, of the amended 2014 city budget. In a concise presentation of general fund requests and changes, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan detailed each department’s requests and why or why not they were selected to be added to the amended budget.
The bottom line was that the general expense fund was increased by $113,000, with only $13,000 of that balanced with revenue from increased property tax. The remaining $100,000 came from increased revenue projections that Madigan felt confident could be reached. This means that the original 0.68 percent property tax increase projection was increased slightly to 0.76 percent. On a home with a $350,000 assessed value, this works out to an annual increase of $16.05 in 2014. Comments were generally supportive around the council table, and given the fact that the next day was Election Day for many of them, notably concise before unanimous passage.
Earlier in the meeting, a presentation by Saratoga Children’s Theatre’s (SCT) executive director Meg Kelly detailed a potential source of additional revenue for the city.
The Saratoga Music Hall, on the third floor of City Hall, is unused during 72 percent of its potential hours. Two systemic factors were identified that have led to this. The floor of the hall is not soundproofed to any extent, and thus the Music Hall cannot be used at all without disturbing the city court below when it is in session. Further, the hall currently cannot be used during the entire summer season because of the fact that it lacks air conditioning.
While Kelly certainly felt that SCT could increase its use of the Music Hall if these two conditions were resolved, she felt a more important role was to have her organization partner with the city to assure that the Music Hall had everything in place to make it available to many organizations as frequently as possible.
The presentation was very well received, notably by Commissioner of Public Works Anthony Scirocco, who sponsored the SCT presentation and noted that the Music Hall was a wonderful, underutilized space and that the city’s investment in these types of improvements would pay for themselves rather quickly. Scirocco also recommended exploring acoustic augmentations as well.
This would have to go through the RFP and capital budget process to actually proceed, but the council is rarely presented with an opportunity of this nature for an existing facility.
In other council news:
- Commissioner Madigan also delivered her third quarter financial report for the city, noting that they were generally on track against projections. She also detailed five excess fund balance recommendations from the 2012 budget, which the council passed unanimously.
- Commissioner Scirocco announced a Veterans Day ceremony at the Tempered by Memory memorial in High Rock Park
- Supervisors Matthew Veitch and Joanne Yepsen both gave their perspectives on the proposed 2014 Saratoga County Budget (see Week in Review, page 4).
- Public Safety Commissioner Mathiesen received unanimous approval to amend the city code to allow for a stop sign on the intersection of Ludlow Street and Jumel Place; and to have alternate side-of-the-street parking in effect each day during the Saratoga Thoroughbred racing meet.
Mathiesen called upon Police Chief Greg Veitch to read a statement regarding the SSPD’s conduct during and after the late night incident involving Darryl Mount, Jr. (See the featured story).
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council is expected to present a resolution at tonight’s meeting urging the County to continue its relationship with the Saratoga Economic Development Corp.