Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Tuesday, 31 October 2023 09:33

Commissioner Sanghvi’s Budget – Political Spin Trumps Effective Financial Planning

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics
Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi's proposed 2024 budget is a profoundly flawed document that raises taxes and raids the city's fund balance (currently $3,000,000.00) while also not appropriately funding important needs of the city. It exposes her chronic inability to do the hard analysis required to ensure the proper functioning of our city.
A Commissioner Of Finance More Interested In Politics Than Budgets
In the following clip, Sanghvi asserts that the reason the city budget is so problematic is because of three factors:
·         Inflation
·         Mistakes made by the previous administration
·         The hiring of thirty employees during the last two years.
People who follow this blog know that as a result of the breakdown of the Risk and Safety Department, Travelers Insurance will no longer underwrite the city. A careful scrutiny of Sanghvi's proposed budget reveals that Sanghvi has had to allocate an additional $800,000.00 to pay for insurance next year (it will be required every year for the foreseeable future). In fact, her number is just a guess because, to date, we have no carrier for 2024. When you add on the anticipated increase in deductibles and the expected decline in our bond rating, we are looking at a disastrous increase in the cost of running the city, and yet Sanghvi, for some reason, does not include any of this in her analysis of what is impacting the budget.
Sanghvi and Mayor Ron Kim continually blame the loss of Travelers on the cost Travelers has had to bear for representation of former city officials related to the Attorney General's investigation. I challenge anyone to find out where Kim or Sanghvi have acknowledged the actual reason stated by Travelers for dropping the city, i.e., the breakdown of Risk and Safety, let alone try to explain it.
The suggestion made by Mayoral candidate John Safford at the October 23, 2023, City Council meeting that the city invite Travelers to help the city understand the problems with Risk and Safety and discuss how to address them was met by silence from the Council members.
Sanghvi has allocated no money to replace the Director of Risk and Safety. Kim insists that the Assistant City Attorney, who has no background or training in this area, has the time to handle the Risk and Safety full-time job in addition to his other responsibilities. Pretending the problem does not exist seems a form of magical thinking.
How Could Sanghvi Ignore The Insurance Disaster?
Two possibilities:
1.    She lacks the ability or the willingness to effectively analyze the serious situation the city is in.
2.    With the election looming, acknowledging the magnitude of the problem would necessitate having to address what actions Mayor Kim, who she supports, committed that led to this crisis.
Whichever you think it is, the failure of the city's Commissioner of Finance to acknowledge the reality of our city's finances in addressing the public raises profound questions of integrity and responsibility. She has allowed politics to supersede fiscal analysis. The following are just three examples of major problems with this proposed budget.
Don't Have A Terrible Car Accident in Saratoga Springs
Sanghvi's proposed budget is eerily similar to her 2023 budget. In that one she proposed no new hires but now complains that there were 30 hires after the budget was passed all of which she doesn't mention she supported.
So it should come as no surprise that she has arbitrarily refused to fund items like a new jaws of life in her proposed budget. This is a device firemen use to cut through the metal of a car to free victims after a car crash. The city has some small ones that work in most situations, but the existing large one is over twenty years old, no longer functions, and needs to be replaced.
Public Works Commissioner Golub, who does not oversee the department responsible for this item, pointed out the need to fund it at the October 23, 2023, workshop. Sanghvi's response was not to fund it but to suggest a risk analysis: "We need to do a risk analysis." [JK: Maybe the analysis should have been done before the budget was published?]
This chilling incident should give the readers of this blog an idea of how poorly thought-out the proposed budget is.
Pound Foolish
Corissa Salvo is the city's Civil Service Coordinator. She is among the most knowledgeable employees in her respective field in our city. To witness her extraordinary talents, watch this video of her presentation to the City Council at this budget workshop. Impressive.
In an extraordinarily well-crafted presentation that includes comparisons with other municipalities, she documents the fact that her office is badly understaffed. In fact, she shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the situation is sufficiently bad that the city is out of compliance with the state's requirements for the management of civil service exams due to a lack of staff.
She essentially pleads with the Council to refund a third position in her office that has been vacant for approximately four years.
She also asks that her part-time staff member be granted a raise. She reminds the Council that her part-time person has not received a raise in three years. She notes that in an earlier meeting with Sanghvi's office, she had advocated this and was asked where the money would come from. At the time, she told them the small amount of money could come from the medical exam budget. What did Commissioner Sanghvi do in response? She reduced the allocation for the medical exam budget but then did not use the money to raise the part-time employee's salary.
Ms. Salvo also asked for a 4% raise, which is what the unionized city hall employees are getting.
While the other non-union employees, of which Ms. Salvo is one, are all getting a 2% raise, the difference is that the Council granted hefty raises to their Deputies last year but made no such accommodation for Ms. Salvo.
Ms. Salvo explained in her presentation that the only way she has been able to keep civil service afloat is by working extra unpaid hours.
I do not know how long Ms. Salvo will have to endure all of this, but given the many retirements and resignations among city employees over the last two years, it seems prudent to worry about how long she may remain with the city. It would be very expensive to replace her if the city could even find someone as experienced and qualified as she is.
I can't help but note the difference between Ms. Salvo's request for an additional employee, which involved a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis (see video), and the case Commissioner Sanghvi made when she wanted to request the Council's support for her office to hire an executive assistant for her. In Sanghvi's case, all she offered was a one-word rationale, "parity." She deserved the position because the other elected officials had executive assistants. Her predecessor Michele Madigan observed that the Finance office, during her ten years, had functioned effectively without an executive assistant.
In this video, Ms. Salvo makes her case:
Lew Benton's Concerns Dismissed
In this video, former Commissioner of Public Safety Lew Benton raises the alarm about underfunded items in Sanghvi's budget and overly optimistic income projections. Rather than specifically address Benton's concerns, Sanghvi gives a rambling and unfocused speech that fails to address the issues he raises. She assured the public that her experienced team had done a great job.
Send a Message to Minita
I received this message from Joanne Kiernan, a former candidate for Commissioner of Finance who ran in 2021.
"Good morning
People are not happy with the handling of the city finances and the council as a whole. Three commissioners are running unopposed so people don’t even have a choice. More and more people were asking me if they could write my name in and I said sure. Then it became a little organized when someone sent me the flier and asked if it could be shared. I love Saratoga Springs and I think Saratogians would best be served by someone who is qualified and committed to the city.

People can write my name in at the bottom right hand corner of the ballot under Commissioner of Finance column."
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