The chiefs of the Saratoga Springs police and fire departments are warning of stark realities if the proposed city budget is approved.
Saratoga Springs Democratic Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan recently laid out a $41.9 million Comprehensive Budget.
A $6.8 million reduction from this year’s budget, it takes into account drops in sales tax and other revenues caused by the pandemic. It also anticipates a 20 percent drop in state aid if the federal government does not approve a COVID-19 relief package that includes aid to state and local governments.
As part of ongoing budget workshops this week, the city’s Public Safety Department presented how the proposed budget would impact what officials described as already strained departments.
Saratoga Springs Police Chief Shane Crooks said it took 10 years for the department to bounce back to full strength after seven positions were cut during the Great Recession.
Crooks and Assistant Chief John Catone led members of the city council through a detailed presentation on the department’s current staffing.
“If this budget went into effect on October 27th, the Department would be operating with only 39 officers including the Assistant Chief and myself, compared with the current 77 positions,” said Crooks.
Crooks spent time explaining the costs associated with buying out older staff, laying off younger officers, and eventually recruiting and training their replacements.
The city fire department is also envisioning layoffs.
Fire Chief Joe Dolan said 63 sworn personnel could potentially be cut down to 42. The chief explained in order to maintain minimum staffing, the department would have to rely heavily on overtime.
The cuts, he said, would affected everything from fire prevention inspections to EMS response.
“If we drop our manning to 42, which is what the proposed Comprehensive Budget calls for, we will never operate a second ambulance unless it’s on overtime,” said Dolan.
With the police and fire divisions already working under reductions during the 2020 budget year, including a hiring freeze, City Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, a Republican, called the potential reductions for next year a “doomsday” scenario.
“These kids of cuts, there’s no way to guarantee public safety in Saratoga Springs,” said Dalton.
Finance Commissioner Madigan said she constructed her Comprehensive Budget plan to minimize layoffs among full-time employees – Public Safety and Public Works are the two departments with the most employees.
“I see the approach taken here was to focus on the impact of the Comprehensive Budget on all of your individual deparmtents. I’m hoping that there are ongoing discussions with management and within your own departments on ways to reduce expenses within your own departments and within your five union contracts,” said Madigan.
As one suggestion, Madigan recommended a 10 percent pay cut for full-time employees.
Mayor Meg Kelly, a Democrat, said she wants to keep the conversation going. She offered comments after the police department’s presentation about the budget’s potential impacts.
“I think that we need to really need to take a deep look at this department and see how we can fix this,” said Kelly.
While the focus during the evening’s budget workshop was civil services and public safety, there has also been strong community reaction to other cuts – particularly the reduction of all programming in the city’s recreation department.