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As we enter into a new calendar year, the citizens of Saratoga Springs have much to be thankful for, proud of and hopeful about. This is a city with great history, architecture and citizens. The future of Saratoga Springs can be very bright if our city government acts on the opportunities and faces the challenges of the present. Mayor Johnson chose the beautiful new addition to the Saratoga City Center as the site for his 2011 state of the city address. He appropriately acknowledged both the significant work of the City Center Authority Board of Directors and the foresight of former State Senator Joe Bruno who obtained a commitment for state funding at the request of former Mayor Valerie Keehn. Mayor Johnson appropriately tempered his optimism about the strong economic footings of our city with a warning that fiscal conservatism and better efficiencies are needed in the city government. The Mayor's address lacked specifics about how the city could achieve these efficiencies. The Mayor stated that a comprehensive plan is essential for the city. Yet, this is the same administration that has refused to discuss or even consider revisions to the city's comprehensive plan that was adopted in 1999 during the administration of Democratic Mayor Ken Klotz. The current administration has determined that it has satisfied the charter imposed requirement of periodically reviewing the comprehensive plan without any public discussion. Once again, the mayor has shaped a short-sighted view with some ideas about how to tinker with the status quo. We hear no long-term vision about how this city can address chronic issues that will face the city in 2011, 2012, 2013, and beyond. The mayor talked more about the problems that are out of the control of the city (unfunded mandates from the state, lost VLT revenues and the challenges of casino gambling) than what the city itself can change. When you are always looking outside for the problem, that is the problem. Today, the city appears hopelessly mired in a pattern of property tax increases coupled with decreases in service capacity. Insanity is defined as trying the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Yes, we could use some State legislative remedies to ease the burden of mandates. But, we must also look at ourselves and our organizational structure to be assessing what it is that we can do to help ourselves.
One area in which the Mayor did provide specifics dealt with the charter reform efforts of the nonpartisan group, Saratoga Citizen. Despite a finding 18 days ago by the New York State Supreme Court that a plain reading of the statute (which authorizes petitions for charter reform) excuses the
necessity of a fiscal note , the Mayor announced that the Council will unanimously oppose sending the charter petition to the voters unless Saratoga Citizen provides a fiscal note(essentially a budget) in the next nine days. It would be good if the sense of urgency were applied to creation of a long-term financial plan for the city. The Mayor took pride in reductions to the city's capital budget during his administration. We agree that fiscal responsibility is laudatory. We do not agree, however, that a capital budget which ignores necessary replacements to the city's aging infrastructure and fails to consider capital improvements necessary for sustainable growth, is responsible. We firmly believe that the city of Saratoga Springs has the potential for a very bright future and that this future can be achieved without large increases in the tax burden shouldered by our citizens. We point out, however, that the current trajectory of increasing expenses and decreasing services does not point towards this bright future. We implore the Mayor and City Council to begin a comprehensive and transparent discussion with the citizens of Saratoga about long-term plans necessary for this great city.