Thursday, 25 January 2018 18:12

Ballston Spa’s Big Budget Gap

A view north on Milton Avenue in Ballston Spa. Photo by Larry Goodwin.

BALLSTON SPA – Mayor John Romano gave a lengthy presentation Monday night on various difficulties that are looming over village finances, before presenting a resolution that authorizes borrowing $600,000 to pay current expenses.   

With Trustee Noah Shaw listening through a cellular phone due to his absence, the village board voted 4-0 in favor of a “revenue anticipation note” backed by Saratoga County highway funds that will be provided to the village by June. Additional funds are expected sooner from sales tax receipts and water bills that are being prepared.

Romano indicated that Ballston Spa National Bank will provide the $600,000 loan, which he said will be promptly paid back from that expected revenue. The main purpose, he explained, is for the village to remain in “good standing with vendors.”

In an email, Susan Slovic, vice president for marketing at Ballston Spa National Bank, declined to provide more details.

“We value client confidentiality and as a result, we don’t provide information to the public regarding client relationships, including whether or not a specific relationship exists,” Slovic said. 

During his presentation, Romano pointed to “the rising costs of providing basic services to our residents and taxpayers.” In recent years, the village has incurred nearly $1 million in unexpected costs related to sewer system repairs and other factors, he noted.    

The mayor said “an avalanche of unfunded mandates” from New York State, involving expenses such as health care for village employees and workers’ compensation payments, now equals 22 percent of Ballston Spa’s $4.1 million annual budget.

Costs have been reduced as much as possible and staff is short in multiple village departments, Romano continued, even as the village’s annual payments to the state pension system for retired municipal employees have risen from $22,000 in the early 2000s to $288,000 now—or 1,200 percent. 

In addition, officials may be forced to consider spending $1.2 million soon on faulty village vehicles and upgrades for water infrastructure that is nearing 50 years old. 

“We can’t continue to limp along. We’re at a point now that we need to do things differently,” Romano concluded. He reported that individual meetings were held recently with each village board member to discuss such fiscal challenges.

“The first rule of holes is to stop digging,” offered Shaw through the cell phone. “This is not a sustainable trajectory that the village is on.”

A comprehensive review should be conducted of “systemic” fiscal issues in the village, Shaw said, especially during negotiations for the next annual budget in April and May.

Trustee Stuart Hodsoll called the mayor’s presentation “really overwhelming.”

Yet Milton Planning Board Chairman Larry Woolbright, who attended the meeting on Monday and spoke briefly during the public comment portion, found a reason to believe that Romano and his fellow board members would solve the village’s financial problems.

“I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a while,” Woolbright said.

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