After a challenging year, the City of Saratoga Springs is again bracing for impact as the pandemic persists and state and federal aid remain elusive.
Squeezed by the COVID-19 crisis and its upending of the summer tourism season, 2020 was a tough year for Saratoga Springs’ finances. A hiring freeze, staff furloughs, and other steps were taken to mitigate the loss in revenue attributed to the pandemic.
For 2021, the city is expecting more fiscal challenges. Democratic Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan presented her proposed 2021 Comprehensive Budget Tuesday night.
“City taxpayers have enjoyed a stable tax rate for an unprecedented eight years of my tenure as Commissioner of Finance. The 2021 budgeted revenue includes the impact of a 6 percent increase in property tax rates,” said Madigan.
Madigan anticipates $41.9 million in revenues for 2021 – that’s $6.8 million less than the anticipated revenue for 2020.
The tax increase would amount to a $6 per month increase for a home assessed at $200,000. The hike in property taxes would raise about $949,000 to shore up lost revenues.
The budget predicts a 15 percent drop in sales tax, 20 percent in state aid, 50 percent in funding from the state’s Video Lottery Terminals, a 50 percent drop in hotel occupancy tax, and zero revenue from NYRA admissions – predicting another summer without fans at Saratoga Race Course.
But more expense reductions are needed to balance the budget, and city employees will see an impact.
“Budged expense reductions include a 10 percent cut in all wage appropriations for all full-time employees, serving to mitigate the number of required layoffs and lessen the impact to police, fire, and DPW labor and employment lines. I believe that we all share the mutual goal of keeping as many jobs intact as possible, and this reduction is a good investment toward that goal,” said Madigan.
But Madigan warns with Washington deadlocked over the next COVID-19 relief bill, a lack of federal aid to state and local governments necessitates the need for layoffs.
The Department of Public Works faces a 25 percent cut in staff; Public Safety, which includes Police and Fire, 15 percent. Also within Public Safety, an unfilled Assistant Fire Chief position will be eliminated and police officers, lieutenants, investigators, and sergeants will would see an additional 15 percent cut in pay – on top of the 10 percent across-the-board wage cut.
The city’s Recreation Department, which was able to operate a summer program in 2020 under COVID restrictions, has been reduced to exclude all programming. Additionally, funding to city non-profit organizations will be reduced at levels of 50 to 60 percent.
“It is neither a permanent or absolute vision of the future for the city. While there are few layoffs that require a January 1st target, additional layoffs are not off the table. The Department of Public Works and Public Safety, which are the departments with the largest personnel lines, will each require a plan to work through year-end 2021,” said Madigan.
Madigan’s proposed Capital Budget, at $11.1 million, includes three major projects including the long awaited East Side Fire/EMS station, which is currently in its planning stages.
Budget workshops will be held with a public comment period – the first scheduled for October 20th at 6:45 p.m.