As COVID-19 spreads throughout the region, municipalities are taking steps to minimize the outbreak’s impact on local budgets where they can. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports on last night’s city council meeting in Saratoga Springs.
The City of Saratoga Springs is under a state of emergency. As such, the public was not allowed at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, though the event was streamed online. Only three of five city councilors were in attendance: Mayor Meg Kelly, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan.
Madigan introduced a measure to address the city’s fiscal uncertainty due to the coronavirus.
“Every city, town, village, state, country is going to go through this. I understand this is not an opportune time to bring forward a new hire and fund it, but I am also telling you that we have someone who works for the city, who has almost two decades of knowledge of our financial situation, and I feel very strongly that we need this person on our financial team,” said Madigan.
Madigan proposed creating a full-time budget director. The non-union position would pay about $77,000 a year.
Madigan wants former Deputy Finance Commissioner Lynn Bachner for the job. Bachner, a former Deputy Finance Commissioner of eight years, is now serving as Executive Assistant to Mayor Kelly.
In the past, the Finance Department has relied on the deputy commissioner to prepare the city budget. Current Deputy Dierdre Ladd has only been on the job since January 1st. Bachner served as interim Deputy from October 2019 through the end of the year after the departure of former Deputy Mike Sharp, who took a job with RPI.
Democratic Mayor Kelly was supportive of the measure. She listed sources of revenue that she predicts will be hit as the year goes on.
“We have VLT, we have NYRA admission, we have the COVID-19, we have bed tax, we have sales tax, we are taking some huge, huge hits here as a city. And we need to have the institutional knowledge and the budget knowledge on how to do this. So I am in support of this and I thank you for bringing it,” said Kelly.
Public Safety Commissioner Dalton was also in favor, but expressed some concern over the cost, before the mayor called for a vote.
“Commissioner Madigan and I also had a discussion today because I do think it’s important in this uncertain financial times that if we’re taking on a new position that we look at the city and see if there’s any other cuts we can make to perhaps make this budget neutral. I know that would make me feel very comfortable and would be fantastic if possible. But either way, I think this position is very needed and I’m happy we’re able to do it,” said Dalton.
“I think at this time I’d be a little bit cautious on that just because everybody’s fearful,” responded Kelly. “So I have great faith in the Commissioner of Finance to figure this out and I think that we’re all on the same page here, so let’s take a vote.”
The measure passed 3 to 0.
Although the public is restricted from attending city council meetings under the State of Emergency, comments on agenda items can still be sent via email.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Kelly and Commissioner Dalton said they had each received more than 60 emails related to a project to locate a new fire/EMS station on the city’s east side.
The letters were not read but were entered into the record. The project was not discussed Tuesday night.