Trying To Untangle The Truth About  Insurance Coverage Of City Hall and Costs for Proposed Renovations

On social media and in a letter to the editor by former mayor, Ray Watkin, a narrative is being formed that the city failed to properly insure city hall  and that expensive, self indulgent, and unnecessary work is being planned. The problem is I can find no evidence to support these claims.

I have always admired Ray.  In my opinion he was probably the best mayor of Saratoga Springs in my lifetime.  He was an early visionary about the value of historic preservation and much of this city’s success should be credited to him.

Having praised my old friend, I found his letter deeply disturbing.  He accuses the current city council of having gone on a ”…a binge of impulse buying to kick off the holiday season: an $11 million renovation of city hall.”  Referring to the city’s plan to bond for work on the structure, he offers, “The borrowing is required because the building appears to have been under-insured, the extensive renovation was not planned, and no money set aside.  How many members of the Council, let alone taxpayers, have insured their homes for only one third of replacement value?”

On a social media site Bob Turner, past chair of the 2017 Charter Review Commission, asked “Why does the insurance cover only half?  Did the city not have full insurance?”

Pat Kane, who was vice chair of the same CRC, opined, “Shameful misuse of taxpayer dollars. Who looks at our insurance policy annually.  This REMODEL will cost 15 Million dollars and the city will never get to repair the most essential infrastructure services this city so desperately needs. Fire hydrants, water pipes, sewer lines, water treatment.  Live with in (sic) the budget,  Repair city hall…remodel..is extreme”

Laying Out The Numbers

This prompted me to contact John Franck, Commissioner of Accounts.  As Commissioner of Accounts he is responsible for the city’s insurance.  Here is what I learned from him:

What the insurance costs and covers:

  1. According to Commissioner Franck, City Hall was insured to the maximum allowed.  If Raymond, Dr. Turner, or Mr. Kane can refute this they should provide some sort of documentation.  There is something called “Insured Interest.”  As a rule, insurance policies can only cover the costs for replacing what currently exists (more on this later).
  2. The city chose a policy characterized as an “historical insurance policy.”  This means that special expenses associated with things like architectural moldings, particular woods, etc. are covered.  The decision to secure this kind of coverage was critical for reconstructing the beauty of our city hall.
  3. The coverage will also include the removal of asbestos (the exception to the replacement limitation).
  4. The city also had purchased a $1,000,000.00 rider under the category of “Loss of Business.”  This rider covered the many expenditures related to continuing the city’s operation after the fire made city hall unusable.  It paid for the rental of properties to continue the city’s business.  For example, the city rented space in the Van Raalte Building.  It also covered equipment and furniture.  This included things like carpeting and cubicles.  If you visit the city’s operation at the Rec Center you will be able to appreciate what went into creating an operational environment for the city’s employees.
  5. The current estimated amount the city will receive under its policy is $4,600,000.00.
  6. The key areas that sustained the most damage were the areas along Lake Avenue.  These include the Accounts Office, the City Council Chambers, the offices on the second floor where assistant chief Catone and other management from the police department were located, Commissioner Scirocco’s offices, and areas of the music hall.

Additional Costs Not Covered By Insurance

 So as noted above, insurance only covers replacement costs.  Any improvements the city makes in the building are not covered.  It should be noted that making many of the improvements the building needs has been stymied in the past by the need to displace staff while the work is done.  It makes simple logical economic sense to take advantage of city hall being totally empty and the walls taken down to the studs to make as many improvements as possible.

Here is what is planned:

  1. HVAC: The city had an antiquated system for heating and cooling.  It used window air conditioners for cooling.  The plan is to install an effective heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.  This will have great long term benefits.  It will be far more energy efficient than the current systems.  It also will assist in addressing air quality issues.  (If you have ever attended a city council meeting with a full house during the summer you will be aware of just how problematic the air conditioning in city hall can be.)

 

  1. The music hall on the city’s top floor has not been able to be fully utilized.  To begin with, due to the problems of sound and the fact that it is located directly above the courts, it has not been able to host events when the courts are in session.  In addition, because it is on the top floor and not air conditioned, it has not been able to host events during the summer.  The area becomes too hot to accommodate people comfortably.   This has meant that the city has lost events and money it could have earned.  The new HVAC system will allow this space to be used year round and will enhance the quality of life of our city.

 

  1. The city is extensively redesigning its wiring system.  This will have the advantage of not only more efficiently providing energy throughout the building but will allow it to design the wiring to minimize the cost of maintenance.  The city will benefit  from more reliable wiring and will reduce the cost of maintenance.

 

  1. The city will be installing an additional elevator that will provide greater security and safety for the public when moving prisoners up to the courtrooms.  The elevators will also be compliant with the requirements of the American Disabilities Act.

 

  1. The court system has been pressing the city for a number of years to expand the courtroom facilities to include a second courtroom along with greater administrative space.  This plan has gotten bogged down in the enormity of the problems that reorganizing city hall entails.  The city is now able to go forward.  One nice benefit is that the New York State Administration On Courts will pay for the interest of the bonding required for this part of the city’s rehab saving the city money.

 

  1. Similarly, the city had been struggling to find additional space for the police department.  Many will recall the substantial cost estimates that were under consideration when it was thought the city would need to secure a separate facility.  Through better planning along with the fact that the law library on the city hall’s third floor will be moved to Ballston Spa, the city will now have a solution.

 

Responsibly Prioritizing Rehab:

I mentioned to John Franck that there was suspicion that these renovations would be exploited by the Commissioners for personal purposes.  He told me that the only change in his offices was that the deputy’s office would be reduced slightly to deal with an enlargement of the bathroom.  The current bathroom is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The door needed to be enlarged to handle wheel chairs.

Costs: The latest estimate of the cost of the entire rehab is $10,000,000.00.  $4,600,000.00 will be covered by insurance while the balance of approximately $5,400,000.00 will be covered by bonding.

People can and should scrutinize all these plans.  What I find disturbing is not only the indifference of Ray, Mr. Kane, and Dr. Turner  to providing any concrete information to support their claims but the tone of contempt and anger that characterizes much of what they write.  I find John Franck’s explanations credible.  Maybe the cost will rise from the current projection of $10,000,000.00 to the $15,000,000.00 projected by Mr. Kane.  We would all benefit, though, if Mr. Kane would offer some explanation as to how he arrived at his number.  Criticism is important but it should be based on rigorous analysis and done civilly.

A Smooth Transition

 The readers of this blog should also consider how smoothly addressing the crisis of the fire and now the  rebuilding of city hall has proceeded.  One could have expected the process of relocating the entire city government and now re-configuring city hall could have resulted in all kinds of conflict between departments and dragged on for months.  What is clear beyond doubt is that the extreme attacks on the commission form of government characterizing it as virtually non functional have not been born out in this crisis.  Great credit for this must go first to Mayor Kelly who has headed this process but also to the other commissioners who have cooperated closely with her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Trying To Untangle The Truth About  Insurance Coverage Of City Hall and Costs for Proposed Renovations”

  1. Thank you, John.

    I’m speechless.

    This report by the disgruntled three is beyond one’s imagination. I also remember that simpler time when the boot seller walked the four corners at Broadway and Lake Avenue asking the crowds, “How am I doing?” I have many very fond memories of him in City Hall – another life ago. As for the other members of this band, the one who I’ll characterize as the fraudulent flouter and the one who claims expertise on just about everything that he can publish on social media, it remains a mystery that they can reach so far beyond their own comprehension simply to incite their base. The residents experienced this level of shotgun criticism before with their shallow financial mismanagement allegations and projected costs on Charter Change without nary a defense follow-up when challenged. Someone should check the cookie dough, I think it’s gone bad.

    Like

  2. At $10 million (and counting), the Commissioners are obligated to consider selling this building and moving to or building in a lower cost part of town. This property is too expensive to house city offices and can be renovated for better use by a non-government entity. It would then provide substantial tax revenue as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You may have missed the discussion in the late 1970’s when the Post Office considered that short sighted option or much of the preservation work that has been accomplished here over the last 45 years. Our downtown is not only defined by its landmarks, specifically its structures and their uses, but by its venerable, vocal and fierce preservationists. Town Hall, The Adirondack Trust, the Ainsworth Block and the Post Office are vital reinforcers of Town Center. Upgrading our nationally historic Town Hall is not extravagant but simply good responsible stewardship and at this opportune moment fortuitous. In fact, I wish they would reconstruct the extant tower.

      Like

      1. The responses to my comment all demonstrate a profound lack understanding between a building’s historical preservation versus it’s use. City Hall is within Historic District 6, so any exterior renovation done by a new non-government owner is subject to DRC approval. In addition, the City’s ‘Historic Preservation Design Guidelines’ do not restrict change of a buildings use and, in fact, focus only on exterior changes. The interior can be reconfigured and modernized for contemporary use.

        The City’s obligation is to provide services effectively and economically. Housing these departments in a high-maintenance building does nothing to better provide these services and saddles taxpayers with an unnecessary cost. Commenters here have also forgotten the history of complaints from the very departments occupying this building about short comings of their office space.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Bart: You might consider thinking outside the building. Cubicles and offices do not require close proximities as they once did during the last century. All one needs is a computer terminal. Most all departments can also operate from remote locations quite effectively without everyone housed under one roof. Fortunately, that is not our problem. These historic structures that comprise most all buildings in our downtown should not be characterized as “high maintenance” and certainly, our municipal properties have had continuous stewardship.

        I am well aware of our historic districts, our zoning ordinance and our historic review guidelines, having helped to promote them in their earliest of years. Our community is quite proud of the preservation work that has occurred and of the National awards and attention that it has received. This is a great capital investment that will assure that our municipal town hall will survive our lifetimes, unless of course, we choose to move elsewhere with suburban municipal facilities.

        Like

    2. No, Bartelby.
      We need to have city hall right where it is.

      Saratoga is one of the last cities in America with the “four corners.”
      Lake and Broadway have the 4 elements. The very AMERICAN elements.

      1. City Hall
      2. Post Office
      3. The Building & Loan (lol)
      4. The Drug Store

      Go watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
      Then, you might understand.

      And 10 million today is a drop in the bucket in 1946 money.
      Heck, in 1990 the average house on the east side was, maybe, $100k.
      Today? Try close to a million.
      Not bad.

      Fix city hall.
      It’s the Bedford Falls thing to do.

      JC

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I haven’t liked a Justin comment since the dinosaurs – but I like this one for its pithy nature, and strong POV. I may or may not disagree, but I gotta like for the conciseness, and the fact that I actually understood every word. Kudos.

        Like

    3. @Bartelby Uh no. This beautiful historic building is part of the city identity, and you don’t go just selling off the core of the town because it needs a capital investment. An ancient building like this was long overdue for some practical (HVAC) upgrades, hence why the additional cost over the insured coverage. If there is ~$5million more needed for the renovation, split between the tax base we’re only talking a couple hundred dollars carried over I’m sure many years. Speaking as a home owner in downtown Saratoga Springs, it’s a drop in the bucket to taxpayers for an investment in our City.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ray’s letter and this social media activity on the part of leaders of the city manager movement seems to be the opening salvo in yet another ugly charter battle to come in 2018. I once heard Bob Turner say that communities don’t do something radical like change their form of government unless the city is having major problems like financial bankruptcies or corruption scandals. Since Saratoga has neither problem and in fact, by any rational assessment, is doing incredibly well I think what we have seen by those who want a change of government is an attempt to convince the public that Saratoga Springs has problems that in fact do not exist. This was pretty obvious in the misinformation contained in their mailings in 2017. In 2018 we saw the It’s Time folks, including Bob Turner and Patty Morrison, repeatedly trying to create the impression that our commissioners are corrupt by stating wrongly that they were writing updates for the charter that would allow them to raise their own salaries. Now we have the city hall scam of putting out there that incompetent city officials have left the city underinsured. Again untrue. But there’s no point in pointing out these errors to them. They just keep repeating them. Their objective is not to tell the truth and give the public actual facts that could contribute to an intelligent citywide conversation. They’re objective is to win at any cost. Hopefully Saratogians will see these people for the dissemblers that they are and consider whether these are the people they want to trust as their source of information for making up their minds about the future of our city.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that we need to remember that not everyone is qualified to advise the city in its current matter of addressing the repairs, restorations and modifications to Town Hall. The question posed by one naysayer regarding costs, would be best left to those who have a rudimentary understanding of the not-so-complicated workings of insurance fraud and capital improvements. The exaggerated claims of infrastructure failures and catastrophes from someone who has no expertise in the repair, replacement and maintenance of the public ways or their understanding is ill-advised. I am surprised that our former official (or his ghost writer) would take such a critical approach to this current capital project – one that involves capital improvements that he (they) supported only a few years ago.

    Certainly, our small city is not immune during these times of fear mongering and falsehoods by provocateurs that arm themselves with these tactics to maintain the support of their minions. So even during the Holidays, we have to accept those ill-spirited criticisms when instead they could be encouraging our city employees and our hard-working city council for weathering the storm and staying the course.

    Bah, humbug to these cheerless disgruntled naysayers.

    Like

  5. The lightning strike is considered “an act of God” by insurance brokers/companies.
    I am not even close to being an expert about insurance, and insurance claims, but a claim of this size/enormity will certainly be held under the microscope.
    My homeowner’s insurance has replacement cost coverage. Was it available for City Hall?

    Like

    1. The insurance is covering that damage caused primarily by the water that flooded several floors and interrupted building systems, damaging materials and finishes and displacing personnel. Of course, it does not cover the new renovation work and the abatement of contained asbestos that had been desired for some time or the additional required courtroom. This catastrophe made addressing that work now while the building was partially being reconstructed, a most efficient strategy. Our elected officials should be congratulated on moving quickly to address this as well as our city staff for their inconvenience.
      By the way Henry, does your homeowner’s insurance cover your full value assessment or the value of replacement for your structures?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. All of you are just fantastic!
    What a good read, indeed.

    Thank the gods for lightening (lol).
    Now, finally, all good things will be come.

    City hall was in such desparate need of rennovation.
    We are so lucky that we have such a dedicated collection of homo-sapiendom that the job WILL be done. (‘Thy’ will be done to you on the right side of the aisle! lol).

    By the way, those that continue to find fault with everything Saratogian are nothing less than communists. Non-Citizen Kane, and that ‘Able’ companion come to mind. This wretched lot are playing games of witts and power. Such contempt they have for everything Saratoga. Those tenured morons can’t see the forst for the trees.

    Some of us know they are playing nastly, devisive game.
    Wake up people!

    They are playing us for fools.
    Not me.

    In the 1950’s they would have been brought into the light and declared anti-american.
    Remember anti-american activities act? Well, here we are, once again. Time to drain the swamp I guess.

    Well, all those finding contempt with our presently elected, good, citizen-representatives are not looking out for the best interest of our fair city.

    Be aware people.
    There are those that are not acting with honorable or noble intent.
    If some of us, so inclined, were to meet this turn-ah; et alia, in person, it wouldn’t be pretty.

    They go about there business in darkness with a false sense of security shared only by themselves.
    Turn the light on them and they scatter faster than cockaroaches in Bushwick!

    These people are “le Miserables” (read french, roll the ‘r’) incorporated.
    The do not deserve our attention or recognition.
    They are non-citizens by their own acts and means.

    We have no use for these disrupters.
    Useless trolls comes to mind.
    They serve no good end.

    In Brooklyn, we used to say “stirrer-uppers.”
    Schmucks! They are to be cast off.
    Rid us of such vermon and waste! (lol)

    Thanks to all good people manning their posts!
    (And this wonderful bulletin board.)

    God bless our city.
    Happy holidays to all.
    (Gut Yontif to the elders amongst us.)

    Pax vobiscum, people!

    -JC

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s