Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly gave her annual State of the City address Tuesday night. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, city councilors are making one aspect of the proposed New York State budget a priority.
Mayor Meg Kelly, a Democrat now beginning her second two-year term, went straight to the point. During her State of the City address Tuesday, in which each city commissioner was able to share views from their own departments, Kelly said her mission is to ask state leaders to restore aid to the city generated from the state’s Video Lottery Terminals.
“Our goal is to restore VLT at least to its current amounts,” said Kelly.
More than $2 million in aid was cut as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget. Saratoga Springs is one of 15 municipalities that receives the funding for hosting gambling.
City finance commissioner Michele Madigan says without the VLT aid, there could be a significant impact.
“We're a small city in upstate New York, we operate on about a $48 to $49 million operating budget. So $2.3 million is a lot of money, that’s five percent of our operations. Or, as I calculated it, it would be 11.9 percent increase in property taxes,” said Madigan.
Saratoga County would also take a hit: about $775,000. County supervisor Matt Veitch said the county will also stump for the aid to be restored.
“The county plans on adding this item to our yearly legislative agenda, as well as to bring a full-board resolution to our February meeting advocating for the funds,” said Veitch.
This is not the first time the City of Saratoga Springs has faced the potential loss of VLT aid. When the VLT aid program began in the 2006-2007 state budget, the city received more than $3 million.
Republican State Senator Daphne Jordan advocated for a restoration of the funding in the past when she was a staffer for then-Senator Kathy Marchione. Jordan and Democratic Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner wrote to the governor last week.
Jordan says the VLT aid was cut as the Cuomo administration looks for ways to close a $6 billion state budget gap.
“That’s actually paid from the general fund. And so if the governor is trying to make up his gap, that’s one way of making up some of the funds, right? So I am fighting to get that back for the city. It’s very important, they count on it,” said Jordan.
Newly elected Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton says she’s been assured by her fellow city councilors that any reduction in aid would not impact police and fire services. Dalton campaigned on restoring staffing to full strength.
“We really can’t facilitate losing anyone in Public Safety right now. And I think what’s great is the city council acknowledges that and realizes that. And as soon as we started this conversation they said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll figure this out. DPS will be safe,’” said Dalton.
And Commissioner Madigan has at least one idea for how the governor can raise revenue to avoid cutting VLT aid.
“Hopefully the governor and the Senate and Assembly are looking at the legalization of cannabis at this point in time,” said Madigan.
Cuomo said on WAMC Wednesday that like last year, he thinks legalizing marijuana must be done in the budget due April 1st to get done in 2020.
Mayor Kelly says she will advocate for the funding in Albany as state lawmakers begin the budget hearing process.