Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly and members of the city council delivered the 2021 State of the City address Tuesday night.
An affair usually held in a large conference room at the Saratoga Springs City Center, the 2021 State of the City address this year went virtual.
It was the last for Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly, who recently announced she would not seek a third two-year term. Kelly opened her remarks by putting things in perspective – last year at this time, city government was hoping it would be able to move operations back into City Hall on Broadway after a lightning strike and small fire damaged the building in August 2018.
“At our last State of the City Address, the highly anticipated move back to the newly renovated City Hall was at the top of the list of a very full schedule of projects and activities. Obviously, 2020 unfolded in very unexpected ways,” said Kelly.
Kelly held a moment of silence for those who lost their lives to COVID-19. She then presented highlights from each of the city offices in the mayor’s department.
Kelly mentioned a retooled city recreation department – with ice rinks to open soon, the near completion of the long-awaited Geyser Road trail and other connector trails, and the upcoming final draft of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance zoning update.
But there are also challenges ahead.
“The health of our residents and local economy are my primary focus for 2021. More than ever before, the factors that are critical to success are not entirely within our control,” said Kelly.
Kelly outlined several hurdles the city is facing as the pandemic surges in its second wave.
Saratoga Springs is facing a reduction in traditional revenues like sales tax. The new normal continues to place increased demands on city staff and resources. The question of relief funds from the federal government is still hanging over City Hall. It remains unknown if there will be a return of spectators at SPAC and the Saratoga Race Course. And, much of the progress in beating back the pandemic hinges on the availability and distribution of COVID vaccine.
Each member of the city council and the city’s two county supervisors also spoke Tuesday night. A common theme was overcoming challenges and building efficiencies through technology.
In preparation for another year that will be difficult on restaurants, Accounts Commissioner John Franck said the city’s expanded outdoor seating rules will continue.
“The outdoor seating project proved to be very successful and it resulted in a number of extensions right through the almost end of the year right before the big storm. Therefore, we are already working on putting this program back in place for the 2021 season,” said Franck.
Next up was Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who summed up a challenging year for the city’s coffers.
“And despite an unprecedented health crisis – which led to an unprecedented budget crisis, which in turn resulted in some furloughs, lockdowns and the need for a number of special services for our local businesses and essential employees, we persevered,” said Madigan.
Madigan also detailed efficiencies in her department, a $5 million savings from refinancing debt, and several initiatives she’s pursuing – LED street lighting, fiber optic networking, and going paperless.
Last year, city leaders – and local state representatives – successfully lobbied for the restoration of municipal aid through the state’s video lottery gaming terminals. Saratoga Springs receives a share for hosting electronic gambling at the Saratoga Casino Hotel, but it has become somewhat of a perennial battle to restore the funds to the state budget.
“I’m happy to report that those efforts were successful. And I’m also happy to report that we’ll be back at it again,” said Madigan.
Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco was next. While the pandemic presented challenges, renovation work continued at City Hall, the Trask Stairway in Congress Park, and in Canfield Casino – though COVID canceled a planned reopening celebration.
Among new efforts, Scirocco is looking ahead to the creation of a Broadway Master Design Plan for the city’s main thoroughfare.
“This will incorporate many ideas in one cohesive plan that recognized the welcoming historic charm of our downtown while acknowledging the growing community and businesses’ expectations for public spaces,” said Scirocco.
The last council member to speak was Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton. Reflecting on the challenges of 2020, Dalton said her department’s response to the pandemic was a bright spot – including communication with the public.
“The magnitude of this public health crisis made communication to city residents of the upmost importance: to educate Saratogians on the risk the virus posed and how to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. Through the various stages of New York State On Pause, to New York Forward and reopening phases, and as 2020 concluded, vaccination information and eligibility.”
Crunched by budget difficulties, Dalton also recognized the city’s compliance and code enforcement team, and businesses for cooperating with state guidance – resulting in few citations, and the ongoing efforts to review and update the city’s policing policies and procedures.
The city’s two county supervisors, Matthew Veitch and Tara Gaston, detailed their work over the last year at the county and efforts under their new committee assignments. The county recently named new leadership for 2021.