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

Wednesday, October 19

Tasers in Saratoga Springs and New York in general

Here are all of the reports on Taser use in the state prepared by the NY Civil Liberties Union. Of course, they conclude the results are shocking (I had to).

As one police officer I spoke to offhandedly said, "When you set out looking for a problem, you'll find it."

Of course some of the statistics the NYCLU point out are somewhat "disturbing" to quote the author of the report. 75 percent of people tased weren't warned first, 15 percent of taser use is "clearly inappropriate" and 60 percent of people tased were essentially not a threat to officers or the general public.

Really, though, there were very few incidents from Saratoga Springs. Six incidents with seven people tased over a 22 month period.

If you take the time to read through the reports, it seems the police were dealing with some VERY drunk and belligerent people when deploying the tasers, at least according to their reports.

The NYCLU condemned all use of Tasers where someone was already handcuffed. Chief Chris Cole said the one incident in Saratoga Springs where that happened would have to be "extreme" for it to be deemed appropriate, but the use of force report vindicates the officers.

Well, anyone who wants 150 pages of reading here are the police reports.

02.26.10 Saratoga UOF Reports

Then here is the Saratoga Springs Policy on taser use. It's been redacted. I have seen the un-redacted version and compared the two. The blacked-out spots outline general situations where tasers cannot be used.

Cole worried that someone who knows some of the general situations where the police cannot use the tasers could use those to his or her advantage by creating those situations and limiting officers' ability to tase them.

That, to me, gives the criminal mind a lot of credit, but going with the journalism mantra of "Do no harm" I'll ere on the side of caution, so I posted the redacted.

02.26.10 Taser Uof Policy-redacted

And finally, here is the NYCLU report. It mentions Saratoga Springs in the body of the report twice, both times in a more complimentary way than most other cities/departments mentioned in the report. It is also found in the footnotes several times.

NYCLU Taser Final

The Saratoga Springs Police Department released this statement Wednesday following up on the report's release.

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Friday, October 7

Comprehensive Budget is online

Here is a link to the comprehensive budget. It is on the city's website at

Earlier I wrote that the budget was online "as of this morning," but I was informed by Ivins' deputy commissioner that the budget was actually posted as of about 4 p.m. Wednesday.

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Thursday, October 6

Parking garage VS. Parking deck.

For days now the two sides in the title of this post have been waging a war in my brain.

When Mayor Scott Johnson first announced he was going to build a... parking structure on Woodlawn Avenue he continuously used the term "Parking deck" and seemed to be avoiding the alternative "parking garage" (I seem to remember him correcting me once when I referred to it as a parking garage, but that may be a dream-- I've been dwelling on this).

Googling it didn't much help. Some websites said the two terms were synonymous. Others said it was a regional difference — the Southeast uses the term deck, the Midwest uses "Parking ramp" (which just seems foolish) etc.

I put the question to people in my office, working out the key piece of each term Deck vs. Garage.

Deck seems to imply a more open space, a single story and is generally less imposing. "Deck just sounds prettier," said Business and Education Reporter Suzanna Lourie, something I agree with. It seems like Saratoga Springs to have parking decks, not garages (at least in its own mind).

On the other hand, both she and Assistant Managing Editor Betsy DeMars said a garage is more enclosed with full walls. DeMars also said she thinks of a parking garage as having a basement level. I don't necessarily think that, but I do think multiple levels.

Then both of them told me I was being too nit-picky and splitting hairs and while they didn't necessarily tell me to go away, I got the hint.

But it seems our thoughts weren't entirely off-base.

"My opinion, of a parking garage is considered a "building" is somewhat enclosed, usually multiple levels and has a more intricate design, detail and structure and is governed strictly under the building code of NYS," said Wayne Williams, an engineer for U.T. Marx Construction which has built numerous parking garages in the area (I don't know if anyone cares to know which ones, but here they are anyway).

"To me," he continued, "the term parking deck on the other hand refers to a more liberal design typically not enclosed on any sides and typically only one

And then he voiced the issue that sent me down this path. "Of course as always semantics comes in to play, along with agenda."

That hits the nail on the head. The reason it has held me up for days is because A) I expect to write about it semi-frequently and want to be consistent with my terminology, but more importantly B) It's a slippery slope to let politicians and other newsmakers frame the conversation about anything, even when it is as innocuous as Parking deck Vs. Garage.

Then what's next? Torture becomes enhanced interrogation, rebels become insurgents, layoffs become extended vacations?

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but it all starts somewhere.

But I guess in this case, Johnson has been right all along and I will start referring to it — accurately — as a parking deck. That is, until the next level is added on top-- then it will become a parking garage.

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Wednesday, October 5

2012 Comprehensive budget post-view

The combination of skateboarders and the city budget at last night's (Oct. 4) city council meeting was somewhat surreal. But I guess it makes sense, because by the end of Ivins' budget presentation I was as tired as if I had dug out the skate bowl myself.

It was long, mostly dry (as these things often are) and I should have left breadcrumbs through it because by the end I was pretty lost.

From what I gleaned, the city is better off than it was a year ago. Through some financial gymnastics (a term I got from DA James Murphy to describe white collar crime -- though I'm not implying anything by using it here) Ivins and Christine Gillmett-Brown explained how the tax cap doesn't mean 2 percent for Saratoga Springs, but actually means 4.8 percent.

All you need to know is:

(Courtesy of the New York State Office of the Comptroller. For a better view, click it.)

Regardless, the tax rate is only proposed to raise about .54 percent, on average. District by district that could vary slightly, but for the most part it means that the $6.07 per $1,000 of property owned tax rate won't be changing.

Of course, as has been pointed out in the comments of the story and in a press release from finance commissioner candidate Michele Madigan, the comprehensive budget itself wasn't presented, only a synopsis of it, something she said violates the charter.

"Those of us who attended the Council Meeting last night were expecting
the Commissioner to fulfill the duties of his office and lead a presentation on our city’s finances and his proposed 2012 budget," Madigan said in a statement released today. "His failure to submit the Proposed 2012 Comprehensive Budget last night, as required by the Charter, further illustrates that he is not fit for the position he holds and should not be reelected.”

Her release also includes the various components that are required to be in the comprehensive budget.

I will point out, though, that the charter only requires that the commissioner submit the budget to the city council at the first October meeting, not present the full budget at the meeting.

It is on file in the Accounts Department for anyone's reading pleasure (or lack thereof). And I keep being assured it should be online as early as tonight.

Also at the meeting, Saratoga Citizen organizer Pat Kane took advantage of the public comment, which first he lambasted for its brevity. Each member of the public is only allotted two minutes (something that is rarely enforced but always hanging over commenters heads). "I think it's a shame a citizen can only get two minutes in front of you people," he told the council, going on to say its "embarrassing."

Then he challenged the city council to pass the budget before election day. "You have the legal capability to approve the 2012 budget before then," he said, adding "shenanigans" can happen when budgets and elections mix. "There will always be a period of time where if you wait you could have more numbers," he said, undercutting Ivins' primary reason for advocating against that strategy.

Later, Ivins' responded during his presentation. "That is just not good financial planning," he said.

Finally, Kane also reminded the city council that thousands of Saratogians filled out a petition for the opportunity to vote on charter change.

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Tuesday, October 4

2012 Comprehensive Budget preview

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins will debut the city’s 2012 comprehensive budget at the City Council meeting tonight. Ahead of that, Ivins released some of the preliminary details of the budget—including the proposed tax increase of .54 percent at a kind of Preview Presser (You read that term here first folks).
“It’s essentially one-half of 1 percent property tax increase and my goal is by the end of November we can get the number even lower,” Ivins said, explaining as the year comes to a close, more solid numbers for revenues in the city will come in. “The further you get into the year the better numbers you get for preparing a budget.”
He also distributed a sheet showing the dollar-amount tax increase for homes valued at $200,000, 300,000 and $400,000 (see below, and please excuse the foolish dashes, Blogger isn't cooperating with me).

Home Value===== 2011=====2011==== Increase

Last year’s budget passed with a 4.45 percent tax increase, more than eight times the 20112 proposal.
Ivins attributed the change to better-than-expected sales tax revenues, Video Lottery Terminal funds coming into the city which had been absent for years and health insurance costs which increased, but not by as much as previous years.
One thing that is not driving up the cost was Ivins’ decision not to include the position of reservation coordinator in the budget—a position requested by Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco that created debate and a split vote at the Sept. 20 city council meeting. (the comments in the story are not so split)
"I voted for creating the position," Ivins said. "I've voted to create a number of positions over the years I don't necessarily fund. I felt this was not the right time to fund that position," though he did not rule it out in the future.
Michele Madigan was also on-hand for Ivins' brief press conference. She asked him about the sale of the Lillians' lot on Broadway to contractor Sonny Bonacio and whether the money would be in the budget again. (It was in both 2010 and 2011, though not used).
Ivins said it would be as part of the Woodlawn Avenue parking garage-- since the revenue from the sale is being used for that project.
Madigan, too, said she was pleased to see the "pretty low rate. But I think we could do 0 percent, but I wouldn't want to see that at the cost of any layoffs."
Check in on The Saratogian for full coverage of tonight's presentation on the budget and further in-depth coverage in the days to come (We can't do it all tonight -- damn deadlines).

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Monday, October 3

More from Madigan

I think Michele Madigan got the message that I will post most everything I receive from candidates on this blog, because I have been inundated with regular faxes with the letterhead: "Michele Madigan for Finance; The Clear Choice."
Her latest was a response to Ken Ivins' response to one of her first.
“Just because I voted to create the positions does not mean I voted to fund the positions,” Ivins said Thursday in response to criticism from Madigan.
Ivins recently voted to create a position of "Reservation coordinator" to handle reservations for city owned property. The position pays $20.39 an hour plus benefits. (Also check out Managing Editor Barbara Lombardo's editorial on the position)
“Mr. Scirocco made a good argument for creating the position,” he said. adding that he has been meeting with the commissioners this week, going over requests for each department and “crunching the numbers.”
Ivins said that was on the table as a potential cut.
Madigan's latest letter, dated Oct. 3, includes Ivins' first statement above. She said she wants to be finance commissioner "because the incumbent cannot seem to communicate clearly with his fellow citizens and, frankly, does not seem to understand our city's finances. His response to me is a prime example. He votes for staffing changes, but then says he didn't vote to pay for them."
Ivins explained to me that he created the position but didn't know if it was in the 2012 budget yet. "I'm in negotiations with Mr. Scirocco," he said, something he does before every comprehensive budget comes out.
He gets a "Wish List" (Accounts Commissioner John Franck's words) from every commissioner, meets with each department head and then decides which ones the city can afford to pay for.
The comprehensive budget is due out at the Oct. 4 City Council meeting.
"I expect Ivins to propose a small property tax increase and will be looking very closely at his revenue and expense projections for the coming year. Hopefully they will bear some resemblance to reality but based on his past performance I'm not holding my breath," Madigan said and called for a debate.
We'll see how her predictions pan out at tomorrow's meeting.

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