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Frustrations surface in Saratoga Springs City Council over fire station funding

Saratoga Springs' East Side Fire Station on Henning Road
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
Saratoga Springs' East Side Fire Station on Henning Road

Tensions between members of the Saratoga Springs City Council continue to escalate over the funding of a new fire station.

The East Side fire station was supposed to open in May, but is behind schedule due to manufacturing delays and funding issues. Friction between Commissioner of Public Safety Jim Montagnino and other members of the all-Democrat City Council surfaced yet again during a recent public safety budget workshop. Mayor Ron Kim urged action, drawing a response from Montagnino.

“We need to figure out how to open this station because, as I said, the last I checked the Eastern plateau pays the same taxes, relatively speaking, that any of the other parts of this city do,” said Kim. “But we need to find this—figure this out now, because there was really malfeasance here as far as I can see.”

“Malfeasance, sir?” Montagnino responded. “On whose part?”

“Well, all I know is, I didn’t hear—I heard about this very late in the game,” Kim said.

“On whose part, Mr. Mayor?” Montagnino questioned. “Whose malfeasance?”

Assistant Fire Chief Aaron Dyer explained to the city council that the current funding issues boil down to being short staffed. Saratoga Springs implemented four-person fire trucks, something Montagnino says is necessary to ensure public safety.

“In order to staff and operate that station, until the time that those firefighters graduate paramedic school, it is 100% an overtime detail," said Dyer. "I don't have the bodies. I have enough right now to cover minimum staffing as it is. Unfortunately, that cost to open that station on a weekly basis for four people is roughly $45,000 plus a week.”

The firefighters currently in paramedic school are projected to graduate in June 2024. Mayor Kim blames the new round of delays on Commissioner Montagnino.

“It was understood that the only way you're going to properly staff that facility was to use current firefighters who are fully trained." Kim continued, "and that would mean overtime. That was never budgeted for. And that is the mismanagement of the Commissioner of Public—the current Commissioner of Public Safety, Jim Montagnino.”

Speaking to WAMC, Commissioner Montagnino contends the entire council should have known that the third fire station would not have adequate funding.

“We all knew, or should have known, from day one that additional sources of revenue would be needed to hire and train and maintain a larger fire service," Montagnino said. "And it's unfortunate that now here we are in the budget season, and the people responsible for the city's finances have not adequately funded the third fire station.”

Montagnino says the job of managing the city’s money belongs to the Commissioners of Finance and Accounts. Alternative sources of revenue, like heightened costs for outdoor dining permits or charging non-residents for public parking, Montagnino suggested, could help fund a project like the fire station.

“In other words, there are members of the City Council who are looking for scapegoats instead of looking for solutions," Montagnino continued. "The solutions are there and need to be explored.”

Speaking to WAMC, Commissioner of Finance Minita Sanghvi said Montagnino did not come to the council when he put the four-person truck order into effect. Had he done so, Sanghvi said, the council may have been able to account for any additional, unforeseen costs.

“Most importantly, right, the public safety budget is huge," said Commissioner Sanghvi. "And there is enough resources right now in the public safety budget. Let's just, you know, let's say in the police department instead of the fire department, and if he was OK with moving those monies from one space to another within his own department. He would be able to fund the fire department overtime.”

Kim and Montagnino are both seeking re-election and have butted heads over a number of issues. Kim and the other members of the city council endorsed a challenger to Montagnino in November’s election. Kim is also a former public safety commissioner.

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