Commissioner Madigan: Proposed Charter Will Increase Costs to City and Its Taxpayers


Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan has written the following analysis of costs associated with the proposed charter. The charter which would change the Saratoga Springs city government from the current commission form to a city manager form will be on the ballot on November 7.


Commissioner Madigan:

Saratoga Springs voters will decide if we should change our form of government via the adoption of a new Charter this November. Our current commission form of government works extremely well for small cities, is quite democratic, and is often compared to parliamentary systems. Some medium-sized cities, such as Portland, OR, find that it works well for them.

Over the years bi-partisan City Councils have, through open and transparent public debate (sometimes contentious, as democracy tends to be), improved and enhanced services while maintaining one of the lowest property tax-rates of any city in NYS.  We have one of the most stellar municipal bond ratings in the country.  We have achieved the highest score of any city in NYS in our recent review by the NYS Comptroller.

Adoption of the proposed Charter, changing to a council-manager form of government, would require significant change management and will increase the costs of city government. Those who think it will lead to new day, a new beginning for the city haven’t been paying attention.

Proponents of change claim it will lead to savings. I am skeptical – as Finance Commissioner I am very familiar with the costs of city government, and their numbers don’t add up. Savings will allegedly come from the elimination of Deputy Commissioners. Ignore for the moment if this is feasible, and note that, according to Paragraph 8.09.B, the proposed charter lets the City Manager decide whether or not to eliminate Deputies. Assuming such savings seems imprudent. The costs of the required new City Manager, Assistant City Manager and an Internal Auditor or additional audit firm (an unnecessary expense given our size) will cost the City roughly as much as the 5 Deputies currently do. Absent a Deputy Finance Commissioner we would need to create and fill a civil service, union Director of Budget Operations position, which will certainly cost us more than the current Deputy Finance Commissioner. The proposed charter almost triples the Mayor’s annual salary while reducing the work required of that position. It also adds 2 additional salaried Council members. So where are these savings? The Charter Commission have said health insurance is a material area of savings; their arguments misrepresent the actual costs involved by assuming all Council members elect the most expensive coverage possible, which is not the case now and has not been the case in recent history, but even so they could be addressed in far less draconian manner than changing our form of government.

Proponents of this proposed charter claim it will create efficiencies by assigning job duties across City departments. This betrays a complete lack of knowledge of civil service and collective bargaining, while ignoring the monumental tasks and legal expenses of making this fantasy a reality. It is also based on a faulty premise. Job duties are specifically outlined and approved by the Civil Service Commission and the Council with an eye towards being as efficient as possible. Despite what you may hear from the Charter Commission, there is no duplication of effort across Departments, and we do not have employees sitting around doing nothing – far from it. Our Departments are streamlined; this is why our property tax rates are so low and so stable. The Commission continually states that we have 5 payroll departments, we have 1 and it sits in the Finance Department.  They state that the Fire Department should not plow their own driveway, but of course they should as they need to be ready at any given moment to respond to an emergency call. These are just a few examples of the unrealistic cost-saving claims made by the Charter Commission.

Regardless of the desirability of the proposed form of government relative to the current one, I am here to tell you that making this change – with this proposed charter – is not going to save the city and its taxpayers any money. It will increase costs. The next time you hear a proponent of change claim otherwise, please demand real concrete evidence as you make your decision before heading to the polls in November.

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22 thoughts on “Commissioner Madigan: Proposed Charter Will Increase Costs to City and Its Taxpayers”

  1. Amazing! A city Coming off a 1 Million Dollar deficit in 2016 and sales tax revenue have dropped by nearly 6% and Ms Madigan claiming that her knowledge of the proposed charter will expand the cost of government. Her facts about the proposed charter are not actuate and her assumptionsare nowhere near reality.
    Cost savings will start on day 1 and savings will continue for years to come. A gigantic opportunity for savings is right in her department. The city payroll system is antiquated at best at least 500k can saved by implementing a modern payroll process.The proposed charter will enable these types of savings for years to come. Ms Madigan is clearly anxious to keep the commission form of government.
    The Charter Review commission has and will continue to show the savings and further opportunities for increased efficiencies that will benefit the taxpayer in the years to come.
    I will call Ms Madigan this week to set a time to review facts behind the proposed charter that she may not be aware of.
    Patrick Kane
    518-857-6129

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mr. Kane-
      First of all according to the TU article cited by another commenter the million dollar deficit in 2016 (the result of settling the Anderson suit and union contracts) was paid off with the city’s unassigned and unappropriated fund balance which Commissioner Madigan specifically maintains to cover such expenditures. As you well know the city sales tax revenue has in fact increased and not dropped 6% when adjusted for the correction due to some businesses giving the city money actually owed the county.

      So now I would like to hear the basis for your assertions that 500k can be saved by “implementing a modern payroll process” and that “cost savings will start on day 1 and continue for years to come.”

      These kinds of distortions and unsubstantiated claims only harm the credibility of you, the charter commission, and its proposal.

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      1. Ditto, these are the same claims Mr Kane made in 2012 he lost just about all creditability as a result of his zealous attempt to hijack the cities government fortunately he failed! The Charter Commission is a stacked deck and has been directed by three people Mr. Kane, Mr Boyd, and Mr Turner.

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  2. Ms. Madigan’s post is overflowing with distortions and unsubstantiated claims. The proposed charter has documented saving and I stand by that. The antiquated payroll system unfortunately is not an area addressable by Charter Review. It is however a long standing example of how behind the times we are when it comes to handling the millions of dollars in payroll.

    When is a budget deficit not a deficit?
    I understand the Anderson lawsuit reasoning. But it is still a budget deficit.
    I understand the moving money out of reserve to cover the budget deficit , but it is still a deficit.
    Pat Kane
    518-857-6129

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    1. Mr. Kane
      This is the first time I’ve heard anyone from the Charter Commission claim 500k would be saved with a new payroll system. Could you please provide some documentation to show where this number comes from.

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  3. There is no possible way to quantify how much money the Commisdioner’s personal battles have cost our city in legal fees, lost time and focus. We could begin with the Mayor’s expenditure for personal legal representation. and the irresponsibility of those who forced it upon the city. The failure of our current representatives to show even a modicum of professionalism has also been expensive, in numerous ways including the further erosion of public faith in our “leaders.” Merlin and Straight Shooter, you fully negate my interest in your comments with your wimpy anonymity. Be somebody or continue to be nobody.

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    1. BYW, at least Mr. Boyd, Mr. Kane and Mr. Turner have the responsibility and willingness to be held accountable as shown be putting their names where their civic service is.

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  4. It would be nice to see some real numbers here, instead of abstractions and conjecture. For example, a direct, point-by-point, line-by-line comparison of today’s costs vs. realistic estimates of the same costs under a revised charter. Unfortunately, we don’t have the benefit of the Congressional Budget Office and their staff of politically neutral economists and budget analysts to provide accurate figures.

    The real benefit of the revised charter isn’t fiscal, it’s legislative. Look at the number of commissioners who run unopposed. You’d think that we’re living in a Soviet-style backwater. There’s a dearth of candidates because the job requires too much work for too little pay. You have to be independently wealthy, have a spouse who can support you, or have a business with employees who can take over while you’re out being a commish before you can consider running.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Bye, bye ducks.
    Remember when the city under DPW Commissioner McTygue was fined by NYS DEC (or whatever) for moving the ducks from Congress Parks back in the 1990’s?

    Has anyone noticed that the underbrush has been completely obliterated this past week and all the ducks other ground nesting (non-revenue enhancing) tenants are now missing or dead?

    Where did the city get the funds for such unneeded and costly renovations?
    And where are the (now defunct) domesticated wildlife our children so enjoyed?

    Whom will be held accountable?
    Maybe, if we vote for charter change, we might get some answers because we would sure in heck know who is in charge and who is responsible for decisions made.

    Before you know it, all the native Mulberry trees will be the next to go.
    And with them go the birds feeding on the berries.

    All that will be left in the park will be a few trees, naked statues & some grass.
    All manicured by taxpayer funded city union workers.

    And those new, hot concrete walkways, which encircle our newly polished flippin’ eye sore of a statue, will spread like a blight upon all the crushed stone walkways that all our children, Frisbee enthusiasts and domesticated animals so enjoy.

    Imagine…, it took 100 years to age the old bronze statue (by design) only to be wrecked by this new “we gotta do something…it’s 100 years old!;” coalition of mindless neo-historicals (hystericals?).

    And all for a bunch of homo-erecteye-zombies gawking at their smartphones.
    G-d save us from this wretched lot!

    Maybe the change of government isn’t such a bad idea after all.
    It’s sure worth the look-see.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mr. Kane’s responses are perfect illustrations of what Commissioner’s post is meant to highlight. First he distracts with non-germane points about a budget deficit and a bogus sales tax issue. The deficit was due in part to a legal settlement that had been planned and saved for by the commissioner with the council’s agreement, and the remaiinder was expected by her, as she clerly told us all at the council meeting when the 2016 budget was adopted. She purposely took advantage of prior years’ budget surpluses instead of raising taxes – hence giving the surpluses back to the taxpayers. Nether of these has anything to do with the proposed charter, or with Madigan’s post. He later admits that he knows the deficit wasn’t caused by the commission form of government, or by Madigan doing anything wrong, and says “but it is still a deficit”. So what? It was anticipated and planned for, so what’s the problem. As is true with so much that has to do with this charter group, where, exactly, is the crisis that needs fixing, and how exactly, will this magic transformstion fix it?

    Then Kane claims, with no evidence – as is ususal with him and his comrades on the charter train – that the new charter will magically cause savings on day 1 – day 1! He doesn’t say how, other than by claiming – again with no evidence – that there is a pressing payroll systems problem that no one has ever heard of before. Its like he just makes this stuff up.

    But none of the above has anything to do with Madigan’s challenge to him and his posse to put up or shut up.
    Madigan: “Where is the evidence of these promised savings?”
    Kane: “Look over there! Shiny objects! Deficit! Made up payroll problem that doesn’t exist! Wanna buy a bridge?”

    Why does this man continue to put himself out there with this kind of nonsense? Does he really think the voters are that stupid? Apparently so, because he’s been doing it for years.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Why can’t Mr. Kane be open? Why does he refuse Mr. Kaufman’s invitation to respond so everyone will know the source of his outrageous claims!

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      2. and why would I want to speak to you privately? So you can pontificate endlessly on topics of which you are totally ignoranr, and then to have you misrepresent our conversation to further your ends? No thanks!

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  7. The proposed charter was a group effort of the 15 members of the Charter Review Commission. They have devoted countless hours to trying to make Saratoga better. It was a very diverse set of individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences in the city. The diverse backgrounds meant we had very backgrounds in Saratoga politics and views on politics. However, the ensuing conflict made for a stronger document.

    You can see everyone’s bios here https://saratogacharter.com/category/commission-member-bios/ or read about http://www.saratogian.com/article/ST/20170122/NEWS/170129973

    The Members of the Charter Review Commission includes:
    Jeff Altamari
    Gordon Boyd
    Ann Casey Bullock
    Laura Chodos
    Devin Dal Pos
    Elio Del Sette
    Matthew J. Jones
    Patrick Kane
    Bahran Keramati
    Robert Kuczynski
    Mike Los
    Minita Sanghvi
    Barbara Thomas
    Robert Turner
    Beth Wurtmann

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  8. I want to thank the charter change commission members for their “countless hours” of meetings.
    But Comm. Madigan’s expertise in finances, and her explanation of the proposed changes, have convinced me, my friends, co-workers, and even my family…..we are going to vote for our current form of government. Nothing can change our minds. Facts are facts.
    And distortions are distortions. Unfortunately, the charter change people have poor spokespersons to promote their agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Commissioner Madigan has something to gain by coming out against the charter change: keeping her job! It is an inherit conflict of interest for those who stand to lose their jobs due to a change in law to voice anti sentiment remarks, cloaked in “professionalism” without full disclosure. Her opinion cannot be separated by her desire to maintain her job

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    1. This is such a red herring – she is opposed to this proposed charter because it would eliminate her current office AFTER her NEXT term, not her current one (so, more than 2 years from now)? People making this argument (and that includes comm. Mathiesen) seem to assume that if someone is running for a prticular office today then they must intend to run for it forever, and hold it in perpetuity. Silly.

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