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Thursday, 17 April 2014 15:08

Saratoga Springs City Council

By | News

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. 


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