Blogs > Saratogian Newsroom

The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Wednesday, July 28

Rec. Center staffing hinged on the 2011 budget; will there be piledrivers through the council table?

"Let the fun begin!" said the mayor at last night's Rec. Center grand opening and open house. I'm not sure if he was talking about tonight's jockey basketball game, the upcoming "Controlled Chaos" professional wrestling event, or this year's city budget process, which could end up resembling an "In Your Face" production in ways previously unthinkable.

Let's just hope the council isn't taking any cues from nearby Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon's campaign. I think this is video from her most recent debate, ouch.

I hope today's article on the event illuminated the questions asked about the new facility posted in comments following the last story. Use of the racquetball court will be $5/hour/city or school district resident and $10/hour/all others.

The answer to why discounted rates apply to both city and Saratoga Springs City School District Residents is still a little hazy without seeing the deed for the property. The city did not have it on file, and I was given a reference number I was told could be brought to the county. I believe the final shot of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was referenced during my conversation in the assessor's office yesterday, but I think we'll manage to get a copy in due time.

I caught up with Public Works Comm. Skip Scirocco today, he said he couldn't make it to the opening because of a previous engagement. He said almost the same thing Dep. Mayor Sutton told me at the event, the city will not look at new hires for the Rec. Center until budget numbers are in next month.

"It's not like I turned my back on that place," he said. "I can't in clear conscience hire two or three people back if at the end of another couple of months I'm going to have to lay them off again."

I asked him about the algae in the Congress Park ponds. He said that the department had applied for a permit from the State Department of Environmental Conservation to treat the water, and that the department could only do so much as far as mechanical removal because there are only two DPW employees maintaining the park.

He said he would be open to letting volunteers do some of the work, but that it would have to be approved by city Risk and Safety and the union. I usually have some time to kill most Fri/Sat; if anyone reading this can get it signed off, I'll put on the waders and skim for a few hours.

He said that the department has calculated that a 10 percent budget reduction would mean 14 or 15 more people would lose their jobs, and restated that he will bring the names of 56 employees who have been let go since Jan 1 to the council table August 3.

"I'm going to have a lot of vehicles to sell because we're not going to have anyone to drive them," he said. New state early retirement incentives were brought up as a budget wild card; he said up to ten department employees may be eligible, some of whom have already expressed interest.

Our conversation took an unexpected turn when he said, "They're making a good case to change the form of government in this city," referring to other council members.

He added that he was "keeping an open mind" on the charter change referendum, which appears to be on a fast track to the ballot in November. I'm not sure if this helps or hurts Saratoga Citizen's campaign, but it is refreshing to hear a sitting council member give some indication that the city might be ready for this type of change.

Do you think the city is doing enough to maximize staff efficiency with future layoffs still looming?

Monday, July 26

Civil Service Commission releases memos and docs related to building permits (or a lack therof)

As you may have read, Mayor Johnson and the Civil Service Commission are in a bit of a pickle over what to do about issuing building permits without a building inspector. The following are documents provided to me by Civil Service Commission Secretary Patsy Berrigan documenting the correspondence between Johnson and the commission regarding the disputed job descriptions. The first three pages are a time line compiled by Berrigan.

Saratoga Springs building inspector documents

What do you think? Is Johnson in the wrong here, or is Civil Service flexing enough muscle to suggest ulterior motives?

I'll be back tomorrow with comment on this situation, and some answers to rec. center questions.

Wednesday, July 21

Ivins v. Scirocco on the budget; 10% cut or 10% tax increase?

Technical note: My apologies to any readers whose comments may have disappeared last week, the site has been a little wonky lately in the comment approval area. Just let me know if what you're writing isn't coming through,

Budget season is almost upon us, and if last night's discussion is any indication, City Council meetings are going to get a lot more interesting down the stretch.

Below is video excerpted from the exchange between Finance Com. Ken Ivins Jr. and Public Works Com. Anthony "Skip" Scirocco after Ivins announced he would be requesting a 10 percent cut in departmental operating budgets for 2011 (based on the figures originally enacted in last years comprehensive budget NOT a 10 percent cut from the amount resulting from the cuts made in May).

Ivins said what I imagine most people still in the room (about 10, many folks left after the public comment portion) expected him to say about next year's budget.

Ivins has been consistent all year, saying that to remain viable next year the city will need one of the most stringent budgets on record, leaving room for the possibility of more layoffs and a double digit property tax increase. He said that his reporting of income has been as timely as possible, for which I will take him at his word.

Scirocco was outraged at the idea of a 10 percent cut, saying that the department was stretched as thin as possible. He has touted the department's ability to keep up with the staff reductions. I'm not sure why he needs to know the other department's budgets, or why that information isn't readily available to him. I thought it was available on the City Hall computers, which is what I believe Ivins tells him.

Franck's comments are interesting. If saying you can't make cuts is essentially endorsing raising taxes, is voting to hire a new staffer for an unfilled $67,000 per year position the same as saying you can't make cuts?

Ivins was the only council member who voted against hiring a new Principal Planner. If Franck and Scirocco had joined him, $67,000 might still be available for Rec. Center staffing or debris pick up. You can complain about the guy who writes the budget, but that doesn't mean much without some substantive discussion when a possible cost savings come to the table.

Is this an example of how a city manager might take some of the politics out of the legislative process? What do you think?

Monday, July 19

2010 update from NYRA's Charles Hayward

New York Racing Association president and CEO Charles Hayward stopped by the office this morning with VP and general counsel Patrick Kehoe and Mark Bardack for an update on NYRA's financial situation in advance of the 2010 Saratoga season, which opens this Friday. Their presentation is posted below.

NYRA 2010 Update

A few notes: Page six is a little confusing. It basically says that NYRA has lost money to the tune of $25.1 million since coming out of bankruptcy in Sept. 2008, and that if a VLT operator is not named and NYC OTB continues to make short payments, they'll be $17 million in the red at the end of this year.

A few quotes from the meeting:
Hayward said, "If you sue them you immediately lose your ability to negotiate with them," on why NYRA doesn't sue the state for payments they are contractually obligated to make since VLT revenue has not been in place.

He also said that the $25 million loan granted by the state to NYRA to continue operations this year could last "well into the second quarter of next year", dependent on how the reorganization of NYC OTB affects their payments to NYRA.

What do think of the presentation? Any specific questions you're looking to have answered?

Also today, went on a lovely tour of the race course and backstretch with Charles Wheeler, NYRA's Manager of Planing and Community Relations. A lot of great insider information was given, for example, did you know Saratoga is the only course where the jockeys and horses walk through on their way to the race and from the winner's circle? I just figured they did that at every track.

Check back tomorrow for the answers to some of your comments on Sunday's Indoor Rec. Center story.

Thursday, July 15

The mayor on charter change and the Dems present the NYS Senate class of 2010

It has been a busy week for charter change advocates group Saratoga Citizen. They kicked off a petition blitz and Tuesday night they presented their proposed charter at a forum set up by the Saratoga Springs Independence Party Committee.

The forum lasted about two hours, 10 minutes of which can be seen below:

This was the first time I've Pat Kane and Brent Wilkes have to go on the full defensive in front of an ornery crowd. Some of the "questions" posed by those who are obviously opposed to any change in city government were rhetorical and rambling at best and worst weren't questions at all.

While he asked some the best questions of the night, committee chairman Gordon Boyd's moderator skills were lacking. I'm not sure why Al Calluci was the only person other than the moderators and the presenters who got to stand in front of the room to speak.

There were some good points raised, like the idea of a full cost-benefit analysis derived from municipalities that have made the change from a commission to a council-manager. I also wonder how many cities have switched away from the commission and brought it back somewhere down the line, a number I'm guessing is quite low considering only 5 or 6 cities still have a commission. A variety of interesting civil service and union issues related to salaries were raised too.

During a Wednesday morning tour of the indoor recreation facility, Mayor Scott Johnson said he shared some of the concerns he had read were raised about the proposed charter and that he had been contacted by some residents who have asked him to form his own charter review commission. He said he was hesitant to form a committee because it would essentially put an end to the referendum proceedings that Saratoga Citizen have undertaken for the last 18 months.

I don't think he'll form a committee, if not for the fact that I think he is confident that voters will once again reject the proposal, then because it would appear to some as if he slapped the faces of grassroots group that has been open to all residents since it's inception. We'll see.

In other video today, this somewhat bizarre clip from the New York State Democratic Senate Campaign Committee of candidates (including Joanne Yepsen) talking about all the things they've done in the Senate before they have even been elected.

Maybe there should be some rephrasing here or something because this is confusing. Maybe there was time machine involved in the production.