Commissioner Madigan: City Has Addressed Immediate Cash Flow Crisis

In a press release on May 19 Commissioner Madigan provided a revised plan to address the city’s financial needs resulting from the pandemic. The release includes a statement that by borrowing additional moneys and drawing down more from the city’s fund balance, the projected depletion of the city’s cash is now moved back from June to December.

Here is the full press release:

PR_Madigan_NewPlan_051920

Commissioner Madigan has also provided a thorough, well designed, and easily understandable spreadsheet to the City Council that documents the cash flow by month for this year. In order to borrow money under the Tax Anticipated Note (TAN) program the bank required this information. This is the information that John Franck had been requesting.

https://saratogaspringspolitics.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/michelespreadsheet-1.png?w=1024

Financial shortfalls such as the city is facing can only be addressed in one of two ways: increase income or decrease expenditures. Commissioner Madigan has made a compelling case that the city at some point will have to reduce its staff  in order to close a budget short fall that she projects will be between $15,000,000 and $17,000,000.00 and her first line of attack was to decrease expenditures by furloughing a large number of city employees.

Commissioner Madigan has been critical of her colleagues for accepting voluntary furloughs rather than insisting on mandatory furloughs and thus not meeting her goal to save $3 million through this process.

My understanding was that the city could not require furloughs, however, but had to negotiate this with the unions so I was confused by her criticism. I wrote to Commissioner Madigan asking for clarification. Her response is included at the bottom of this post. She believed that the city should have somehow forced the unions to accept involuntarily furloughing many of their members.

 I know that some would argue that it was in the interest of the unions to go with the furloughs in order to minimize future layoffs but given that the threat of layoffs was not imminent and  that the number of employees who would have been affected by a mandatory furlough was very high, giving the city the authority to choose who and how many employees would be affected was highly unlikely to be achieved by even the most talented negotiators.

So now that we know that furloughs are not a solution and that the immediate need for cash flow has been addressed by borrowing and accessing more of the city’s fund balance, the question remains where do we go from here. Many of us are confused about what actions are required and what the timing of these actions should be given the projected $15 to $17 million deficit and the probability that 2021 will continue to be a financially difficult year. How much do we need to save during the coming year?  How can these savings be achieved? Is there an urgent need now to reduce expenditures by laying off employees? How should the potential for an influx of federal money be factored in?

I have asked Commissioner Madigan these questions and she has indicated she will be responding. I will be publishing her answers.

[JK: From the Finance Department]

John —

Under a “voluntary” furlough program, employees must proactively volunteer to be furloughed in order to be considered for the program.  Department heads have final approval.  No employee can be furloughed unless they volunteer.

Under a “mandatory”, or “deep” furlough program, the Department heads review their employees and recommend those that would be appropriate for furloughs considering tasks, staffing etc.  These employees are approached with a request/requirement to go out on furlough.  It is not clear whether an employee could refuse a furlough, or negotiate its terms, as the City did not complete the negotiation of this procedure as any type of “mandatory” furloughs were rejected at the outset. Employees could also volunteer to be furloughs.  Again, the Department heads had final approval.

The Union would only agree to an all volunteer furlough program.

My understanding, based on the information provided to me by the city’s labor attorney at the time this option was put forward, was that the City would present and support a deep furlough program:  the city management’s negotiating team would negotiate objective criteria for furloughs with the unions, and that, if the City were to implement such a program, all employees meeting a certain criteria would be furloughed and that the program would be temporary and last 90 days with a possible 30 day extension. This would not require the individuals to agree, or to volunteer.

My motivation was to reduce expenses immediately in hopes we could avoid layoffs.


Instead, what was brought back to the Council was a program where the only people furloughed are those who volunteered, and for only 60 days, until the extra $600 per week additional unemployment under the CARES act ends, for a total savings of $277,400.  In my estimation, this is hardly worth implementing as it is equivalent to 1/2 weeks of city payroll and may involve implementation challenges.  The Council choose to move forward with this option.  I would have preferred a better cost saving measure, one that saved taxpayers the interests cost of a substantial short term loan.  

Finance was looking to fill a $3M gap between anticipate revenue and expenses.  Having cut most much of what is otherwise available (Finance also requested 10% overall other expense reductions; while we did not receive 10%, departments did their best to accommodate), wage-related expenses are one of the last and largest options.  

“Wage-relate” includes wages, as well as ancillary times such as chiefs’ stand-by pay, IT on-call pay, education incentive pay, personal and sick-time increases and payouts, health insurance contributions, clothing and uniforms expenses, mandatory salary increases, vacation increases, retirement incentives, etc. 

The matter of furloughs is now moot.  Finance, which is not part of the city management negotiating team, has moved onto borrowing a $6.3M Tax Anticipation Note  (short-term, paid back in full with interest within 12 months) to ensure we can meet payroll and other expenses through November.  If revenue does not come in as anticipated, this note may prove insufficient.  As such, we continue to revise figures and prepare for each possible outcome.  Nothing can be off the table at this time.     

And now I plan to move on from this and responding to your blog — I need to turn my attention toward dealing with the impact of the pandemic on the 2021 city budget, including the impact of short term borrowing and depleting our fund balances instead of reducing our 2020 expenses as I had hoped.Thank you! 

City Council: Conflicts Over Furlough Program and Confusion Over When The City Could Run Out of Money

During her time in office Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan has crafted a fiscal program for Saratoga Springs that is the envy of most municipalities in New York State. The high marks awarded to the city by the bond rating agencies are a particular source of pride. They are an acknowledgement not only of the city’s sound fund balances but of the overall management of its finances.

Now the city faces a financial tsunami. For all her creativeness and perseverance, Commissioner Madigan is confronted by a set of problems that can only be addressed by painful actions. Success is an irrelevant concept.

Commissioner Madigan is a person who takes her responsibilities personally. She is concerned not only for the city employees who may lose their jobs but for our beautiful city which relies on sufficient staffing to maintain its infrastructure, its safety, and its quality of life.

In our form of government, in addition to managing the city’s finances, Commissioner Madigan is charged with crafting the city’s budget. It is hard to overstate the amount of pressure she is under as the city faces an unprecedented financial crisis brought on by the pandemic.

Regrettably, the strain has been reflected in a number of recent episodes.

On May 6 she held a press conference to present her plan to address the crisis. She highlighted a plan that involved furloughing city employees to reduce the city’s spending. By furloughing the employees rather than laying them off, they would continue to be eligible for city health insurance. In addition to the regular unemployment insurance they would all be eligible for federal payments of $600.00 per week until the end of July.

Unfortunately, the press conference involved no written materials. It projected that the city faced a short fall for the year of between $14,000,000.00 and $16,000,000.00 and Commissioner Madigan identified a number of areas where moneys might be found to fill the gap. This included achieving $3,000,000.00 in savings from the furloughs. What the press conference did not address was what drastic measures would have to be taken to try to save $3,000,000.00 in a compressed period of less than three months. In fact, Commissioner Madigan had informed her colleagues on the Council that both the Public Safety Department and the Department of Public Works would need to furlough 45% of their staff while the remaining departments would each need to furlough 20% of their staffs to achieve this savings . As she would subsequently concede, these draconian cuts were unattainable.

At the time, Commissioner John Franck questioned the feasibility of achieving such huge savings through furloughs. In particular he requested a breakdown of the monthly cash flow projections for the year. As he would explain to me later, to assess the city’s condition he needed to know how much time there was before the city would face insolvency. The city’s expenses and its income varies considerably month by month due to the fact that large expenses and major revenue events are not spread out evenly throughout the year. Commissioner Franck is a CPA. He told me that in his work he had been regularly called on to provide consulting to companies facing fiscal crises. He noted that one of his first concerns is to establish how much time there is to work out a solution. In addition strategies often entail managing cash flow.

Commissioner Madigan refused to provide him the numbers. The conflict between the two commissioners became the subject of a Wendy Liberatore article in the Times Union.

“I’m not holding back information when it comes to the fiscal bottom-line,” Madigan said. “Revenues are down and are projected to come in at a $14-to $16-million shortfall, therefore will not meet projected expenses. I have discussed this at length and will continue to do so at city council meetings and press conferences.”

“This is a pattern with him [John Franck],” Madigan said. “I have done my analysis and it’s not so easy to find all this stuff he is looking for.”

“The bottom line is we are not unique,” she said. “We will run out of money, we need to cut expenses and I’ve offered up every bit of cash and projected revenue I am able to meet projected expenses.”

“There are 464 CPAs in Saratoga County, should I send numbers to them too?,” she asked. “If he would like to be the commissioner of finance he can run for this office. … I have held nothing back from any council member or the public or the press.”

Times Union May 11, 2020

The reality is that Commissioner Madigan up to this point has not provided the Council or the public the cash flow projections which are critical to assessing any plan to address our short fall.

The Special Meeting Of The Council

In the meantime, the Mayor’s team was feverishly trying to implement the furlough program. As the federal $600.00 supplement would end on July 31, it was essential to make the program happen as soon as possible. The clock was ticking and every day the furloughs were delayed lessened the amount of money the city could save with this program.

The process was complex. The city could not require employees to sign on to the furlough program. It had to be voluntary so the unions representing city employees had to be convinced of the value of the program and a variety of related legal issues had to be resolved. City employees also had to be informed about the benefits of the program and then individuals had to volunteer. This involved many hours for both the Mayor’s staff and the Human Resources department to negotiate what is called a Memo of Understanding with the unions spelling out how the furloughs would be implemented.

The final result of the negotiations was that 43 employees representing 15% of the city’s employees agreed to be furloughed. Their combined salaries were about $450,000.00. Unfortunately this did not represent the actual savings. I am not clear about all of the issues in arriving at this number but I do know that the city was required to pay for 38% of the unemployment benefits provided. The final savings ended up to be $270,000.00.

The Council voted four to one in favor of the Memos of Understanding with the unions. Members of the City Council and City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis made clear that they were aware that the savings achieved by the MOUs was modest and that it in no way resolved the city’s looming deficit. They emphasized that the MOUs were just the beginning of a very difficult process.

Commissioner Madigan was the dissenting vote. In explaining her “no” vote she told the Council that the amount of savings was utterly inadequate and that the city needed to go back to the unions to negotiate for far more ignoring attorney DeLeonardis statement that the furlough savings were only a first step. She acknowledged that her target of $3,000,000.00 from furloughs had been unobtainable. Apparently, while the mayor’s staff and the human resources were trying to hammer out the furlough program, she revised her plan to call for savings of $1,500,000.00 to $1,700,000.00 in “actual wage and related expenses” over ninety days rather than the end of July. I am not sure what the qualifier “related expenses” means. In addition she had now added $1,500,000 to $1,700,000.00 in savings from reductions in union contractual obligations. I am unclear what this means but added to the “actual wages and related expenses” the target was now $3,000,000.00 to $3,400,000.00.

The reality is that furloughs, unlike layoffs, require that unions agree to them. The City Council cannot dictate that staff involuntarily furlough. The Mayor’s staff did their best to implement the furlough program. Given the unions’ response and the limited time, the $270,000.00 savings was the best they could do with this particular element of the plan to address the city’s looming deficit.

If Commissioner Madigan had voted for the deal but strenuously asserted that it does not get us where we need to go I could understand her thinking although she would be pointing out a reality that everyone on the council was keenly aware of. What I cannot understand is why she would vote against any savings.

How Close Are We To Collapse?

What I found really disturbing was statements Commissioner Madigan made that suggested the city might run out of money to meet its expenses in the near future. She repeatedly referenced a crisis in cash flow (enough money to pay bills) and asserted she needed more money to meet the city’s obligations.

Here again she raises the specter of a potential default:

A Crying Need For Clear Information

Ignorance breeds fear and suspicion. What is most needed is a document that explains to the public not only the short fall for the year but documents when the city might not be able to meet its payroll obligations if drastic measures are not taken. People deserve to understand the truth about what the Council must deal with.

Commissioner Madigan has demonstrated over her terms not only her grasp of the details of the city’s finances but her skill in communicating both the challenges and achievements of her office. I have every confidence that she can provide this community the information it needs to understand both the daunting challenges we must overcome and the kinds of sacrifices that we will need to bear in protecting Saratoga Springs.

City Faces Devastating Staffing Cuts

It is generally understood that there will need to be reductions in staff, at least temporarily, to address the city’s financial crisis in this time of pandemic. It is the severity of these cuts that most folks are not anticipating.

In the commission form of government the Finance Department is responsible for drafting the city’s budgets.

For years Commissioner Madigan has done an outstanding job of managing the city’s finances. We have had repeated years of budgets with no tax increases while maintaining city services. We have had a bond rating that is the envy of pretty much all the municipalities in New York State and we have had a healthy reserve fund.

All of this predated the COVID-19 pandemic. While Saratoga Springs went into this crisis in better shape than many other municipalities, our city’s economy is rooted in tourism. With the statewide shutdown of stores and restaurants and with the track and SPAC season in question, the income from sales tax is now like a reliable spigot suddenly gone dry. In addition the recently secured VLT money and other state funding is in jeopardy as the Governor looks for ways to deal with the state’s looming deficits. So much of our ongoing income is gone but the expenses for the year have hardly begun.

In presentations to the Council and the press Commissioner Madigan has laid out a multi-faceted approach to dealing with the financial crisis the city is facing. The Commissioner told the Council that one of the immediate steps the city needs to take is to cut three million dollars from the city’s payroll. She is proposing a 90 day furlough program rather than lay offs. Furloughs would allow the city to continue to pay employees’ health benefits. The federal government is paying an additional $600.00 a week for unemployment through July 31 so during the three months the loss of income to furloughed employees would not be as onerous. The Mayor would have to negotiate this plan with the unions.

In order to meet this $3milloin savings goal, the magnitude of the required staff reductions is staggering. The plan assumes that the Mayor’s department, the Finance Department, and the Accounts Department would have to reduce their staff by 20% each. Even more devastating would be the effect on Public Safety and Public Works. They are looking at a staff reduction of 45%. Even then the city is still looking at a $3 million short fall before the end of the year.

Putting aside the most important questions about the risk that such reductions in Public Safety would create, the existing union contracts require a minimum number of persons for each fire crew.

The word draconian seems inadequate to describe the situation.

While Commissioner Madigan has provided some general figures regarding how she arrived at the short fall, some of the information used to assess the situation and to come up with a strategy is not available.

I sent her an email asking a number of questions. She wrote me back indicating that she was not prepared at this time to answer them. They were:

  1. In terms of the cash flow per month, when would the city run out of money?
  2. Would the $3,000,000.00 savings from furloughing the employees include the cost to the city of unemployment insurance [See below]?
  3. What are the projections for the number of furloughed employees in each department to reach the financial savings?
  4. What is the overall budget number for the city that the $14-$16 million dollar savings is taken from?
  5. What is the potential risk to the city associated with the layoffs projected in public safety?

[Note: For the private sector unemployment insurance is paid annually by a percentage of a company’s payroll based on a rating. The rating is determined by the history of claims made for unemployment by laid off workers of that company. In the case of municipalities, they are required to reimburse the state for the full and direct cost of claims. Unemployment payments are based on a percentage of a laid off worker’s income up to a certain limit. The limit is very low. ]

There is every reason to believe that the Federal Government will pass legislation providing some relief to state and local governments in spite of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s intransigence on additional spending. As the impact of the economic crisis becomes more evident the pressure on the Senate to act will, in all likelihood become overwhelming. President Trump has asserted that the problem is with states run by spend thrift Democrats but the economic impact on states and local governments across the country will be bi-partisan.

The entire New York Congressional delegation has signed on to a letter calling for additional moneys for states and localities. This includes Democrat Congressman Paul Tonko and Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. Everyone is on board.

Given the crisis there is also the possibility that New York State may modify some requirements that might ease some of the costs of government while the pandemic continues.

This crisis will expose the inequities associated with funding local government through property taxes. The taxable value of a home is a poor indicator of the income of the owner. Many of our older neighbors struggle to pay their taxes. As a short term solution it might be necessary to provide some sort of relief for these people for the inevitable tax increases that will come. This would require action at the state legislature.

The bottom line here is that our city is facing some devastating challenges. Whatever the Federal Government will do, it will not be sufficient to address the radical imbalance between Saratoga Springs’ income and its expenses.

This kind of crisis can bring out the worst in people. It is critical that we see this as not the Department of Finance’s problem but as a problem we must all share. There is no way around the reality that all of us will have to make sacrifices to protect our beautiful city.

In order to do this, the citizens of our city need all the information we can get to find a way forward that we, as a community can live with.

Supervisors Veitch and Gaston Update City Council On Ongoing Problems At County

Below are excerpts from the May 5 Saratoga Springs City Council meeting. Matt Veitch discusses the failure of the county to follow proper procedure in their selection of the law firm that will be carrying out the independent review of the county salary debacle. He and Tara Gaston also discuss the failure of the county to convene a meeting this week (May 4-8) as promised at the last Board of Supervisors meeting.

More Crazyness From The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors

Will The County Adhere To The Open Meetings Law?

Due to the Covid-19 emergency Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that modified the New York State Open Meetings Law. Public meetings no longer have to allow the public to be present. The order did, however, offer some new requirements meant to maintain the spirit of the law. Among those requirements is that organizations subject to the law must provide a transcript of the meetings. Granted that the last meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors was on April 21 which is not that long ago but to date, no transcript of that meeting has been made available. Today (May 1) I emailed the clerk of the board to ask when the transcript will be available. The clerk, Pam Wright, has been responsive in the past. When I get a response I will post it.

The Usual Suspects

In the meantime, the Human Resources Committee of the Board of Supervisors met yesterday (April 30,2020). Attending the meeting were the seven members of the committee along with six other Supervisors. In addition attending the meeting were the County Administrator Spencer Hellwig, Human Resources Director Marcy McNamara, County Attorney Stephen Dorsey, and Adam Kinowski who apparently holds an administrative position that deals with insurance. Most county meetings are family affairs and this one was no exception. Mr. Knowski’s father, Ed, is a Supervisor and was also there.

In fact, the five people who were on the original committee that authorized the controversial raises were all present. Conspicuously absent were any Supervisors who signed the letter that challenged the decision. The usual suspects like to keep things simple.

Supervisor Tom Wood, who chairs the Human Resources Committee and was a member of the original committee that created the county’s mess, announced the formation of a subcommittee charged with investigating the controversy over the raises. He appointed Allan Grattidge, Jack Lawler, and Bill Peck.

Supervisor Peck asked County Attorney Stephen Dorsey whether the independent investigation of the controversy had been initiated. [His “innocent” question reminded me of this scene from the film Casablanca:

As it turns out, according to Dorsey, the law firm E. Stewart Jones, Hacker, and Murphy have not only been retained but have already started their investigation. According to a story in the Times Union by Wendy Liberatore, the firm is being paid $350.00 an hour.

Of course all of this was done with total opacity. How was the decision made to select that particular firm? No one at the meeting saw the need to inquire.

Ms. Liberatore reported Supervisor Tara Gaston’s response.

[Tara Gaston] was stunned to learn about the investigations proceeding without the scope or funding secured.

“It’s not the way to conduct an internal or external investigation,” Gaston said. “I’m literally shocked and I continue to be shocked. … We are not responding to this in way we need to.”

Times Union April 30, 2020

Supervisor Jack Lawler expressed surprise similar to Claude Raines when he told the Times Union,

“This group wanted an external investigation and wanted it quickly,” Lawler said. “This was done. We engage one of the most reputable law firm [sic], outside of Saratoga County, to avoid any appearance of bias and to leave no stone unturned. … Frankly, I’m surprised they are still complaining.”

Times Union April 30, 2020

These people have no sense of irony.

Saratoga Springs Supervisors Gaston and Veitch Rise To The Demands Of Crisis

There is nothing like a crisis to bring out the best and the worst in people. In the case of our two County Supervisors, Tara Gaston and Matthew Veitch, it has brought out the best.

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors has for years atrophied from a relatively responsive institution into a clumsy organization fraught with cronyism and nepotism. It was only a matter of time before the county government would finally do something so ugly and self serving that it could no longer be hidden. The COVID-19 crisis has finally produced that event.

I would have liked to have included in this post clips from the April 21, 2020, meeting with the thoughtful remarks made by Supervisor Gaston. Unfortunately the recordings of the county meetings, unlike the city of Saratoga Springs Council meetings, are not made available to the public. Even if they were, the poor quality of the audio would have rendered them useless.

Fortunately, the two Supervisors addressed the City Council the evening of the county meeting and I was able to edit the video to share it with this blog’s readers.

These brief clips are very much worth listening to. Not only do they illuminate what happened at the county meeting but they reflect the willingness of our Supervisors to take on the reforms needed at the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Veitch Explains Why He Voted Not To Ratify April 17 Meeting
Supervisor Veitch Discusses What Happened At The April 21 Meeting
Supervisor Veitch Talks About His Hope For The Future Of County Government
Tara Gaston Analysis #1
Gaston Analysis #2
Tara Gaston Analysis #3
Testing Fiasco In Malta #1
Testing Fiasco In Malta #2
Commissioner Dalton and Supervisor Veitch Discuss County #1
Commissioners Madigan and Dalton Discuss County With Supervisor Veitch