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Saratoga Springs Bans Sitting On Sidewalks

Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard

In a four-to-one vote Tuesday evening, the Saratoga Springs City Council approved a measure that would make lying or sitting on a sidewalk punishable by a fine between $50 and $100 and/or community service.  Subsequent violations in a 24-hour period could increase fines and possibly lead to jail time. Appearance tickets would be issued only after a verbal or written warning.

The measure, introduced by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, comes after months of discussions surrounding the presence of vagrants panhandling in the city’s busy downtown.

At the meeting, Mathiesen said the measure was not designed to target any specific groups.

“I do think it’s so important to understand that is simply dealing with obstructions on sidewalks. We do need to understand that there are liabilities, that people are tripping over a person on the sidewalk, for the city, possibly,” said Mathiesen.

Mathiesen suggested the ordinance would also be helpful to promote safety near the Saratoga Race Course during the busy summer season.

But during a prior public hearing, opinions varied on the measure, which many perceive as a strategy to remove vagrants from the city’s downtown.

As heard in several recent meetings, many city residents believe the community could use more support services to bring those with mental illness and other special needs off the streets and back into society.

Supporting the measure and addressing some of its criticism, commissioner of Public Works Anthony ‘Skip” Scirocco said the ordinance could be a tool for the city.

“I don’t think this is going to lead to a lot of arrests,  I think what it’s going to lead to is hopefully, maybe, some of these people that need some help, get them the help they need,” said Scirocco. 

With the measure’s passage, mayor Joanne Yepsen was the lone dissenting voice.

“It’s too harsh for me to be able to support,” said Yepsen.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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