More From Chris Mathiesen On The Decline of the Saratogian

[JK:

The decline of local newspapers seems to be the result of a perfect storm. There is the rise of the internet where people get information for “free.” Newspapers have struggled to find a business model that provides a sufficient stream of income in this new environment. Then there is the shift of economic power from the industrial sector to finance. Traditionally the industrial/agricultural sectors represented the largest areas of wealth. Now it is banks and hedge funds. Our own local paper is part of a bundle of papers owned by a hedge fund. Journalism is the last thing on these new owners’ minds. Finally there is the atomization of the public square. People now seek their news from a source that will parrot their own thinking. Facebook friends are regrettably more and more the most trusted source of information. Whatever tribe you belong to there is a cable channel or website or blog that will reinforce your view of the world. There is less and less room for a community resource like a newspaper.

Chris Mathiesen sent a follow up comment to his earlier observations. It appears below.]

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How did it get to the point where I was paying $273.50 for 13 weeks of the Saratogian (not including a gratuity for the very reliable delivery person)? It was partly out of habit. I was reading the Saratogian since I was a kid. It used be a good source of information about our community, especially during the Fred Eaton/Gannett days. There used to be a staff of locally based reporters and editors who understood Saratoga Springs. I relied on other papers for coverage of regional, state, national and international stories but I was confident that the Saratogian provided reliable local news.

On Friday, November 22, 1963, John. Kennedy was assassinated. His death was announced at 2:00 PM EST. The Saratogian, which was an afternoon newspaper in those days, had their front page hitting the streets by 3:00 PMthat day with a short story in bold letters announcing the president’s death. Compare that with today’s paper which is printed in Colonie and includes fewer local stories on topics that took place days earlier.

There was a time when most Saratogians read the Saratogian. I know because I used to help my friend with his paper route when I was a kid and I used to have to take over my son’s paper route for six weeks every summer during the nineties so that he could attend an academic program. Nearly every house received the paper. Reading that paper was a community experience. That’s no longer the case and that’s a shame.

Many communities across the country have lost their local paper. We haven’t actually lost ours yet but the Saratogian no longer provides the coverage of our community that it used to do. This ‘local news desert’ has terrible ramifications. Without news, how do residents stay informed about local government and other important community issues? How do citizens stay informed so that they can make responsible decisions when they go to the polls? How do you find individuals willing to make the commitments necessary to become involved in their community or run for office?

Albany and Schenectady both have good sources of local news with the Times Union and the Daily Gazette respectively. But, as Rex Smith said recently, the TU staff is not large enough to adequately cover Saratoga Springs. We live in a City which is one of the most successful in the entire northeast with one glaring deficiency-local media coverage.

Chris Mathiesen

What Hedge Funds Do To Newspapers

[Chris Mathiesen sent me this note]

John,

You might want to mention in your blog the sad state of our local daily newspaper. While the paper itself has shrunk over the years and is now providing fewer local stories, the cost of subscribing to the hard copy has increased drastically. They are now charging me over one thousand dollars per year for seven day home delivery. However, according to their website, a new subscriber can get the same service for $372 a year ‘until they cancel’. Due to the outrageous amount that I was being charged, I converted today to the digital version only which will cost only $12.00 per month.

Chris Mathiesen

City Taxes Decrease in 2020


City of Saratoga Springs

Office of the Commissioner of Finance

Michele Madigan, Commissioner of Finance

City Hall

474 Broadway

Saratoga Springs, New York 12866

518-587-3550

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Contact:  Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan

Telephone:  (518) 587-3550 ext 2577(518) 526-9377

Email:  Michele.Madigan@Saratoga-Springs.org

2020 CITY BUDGET PASSES UNANIMOUSLY – CITY TAXES TO DECREASE
Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan called for a vote on the 2020 Budget at the November 19, 2019 City Council.  It passed unanimously, and will decrease taxes in 2020.

“Once again, the City of Saratoga Springs comes out the winner,” states Madigan.  “Services are intact, initiatives are funded, and the taxpayer receives stable tax rates for my eighth of service to this City.

The priorities presented on  October 1st with the first draft of the 2020 budget included capital projects for City Hall, the East Side Fire & EMS, and Loughberrry Lake Dam, as well as operating initiatives for cybersecurity, recreation and trails, public safety service improvements, and Code Blue/homeless solutions.  The budget passed during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting remains true to these priorities.

The 2020 Budget now also includes staff funding for the high-in-demand City building and planning departments, increases for local non-profits, a full time hire to address ever-growing threats to cybersecurity, a newly established department for required and much needed trail maintenance, and, in honor of our beautifully green-scaped City and the 1,000 Trees initiatives, doubled amounts for tree purchases.  The Public Safety Department is preparing for the new EMS/Fire station and Command Center, as well as for two new police hires pursuant to an assignment that I put into place in September.  More hires will be considered throughout the 2020 fiscal year. 

Expense increases are offset by the use of healthy reserve funds that have been built during my tenure, strong sales tax and mortgage tax revenue, and the wise distribution of fund balance excess throughout my budget years. 

The total 2020 operating budget is $48,715,918, with a tax levy of $16,136,984.  This is well within the New York State 2% tax cap, and results in a combined tax rate of $6.0709 for the inside district, $6.0088 for the outside district, and an average decrease in taxes from 2019 of 0.05%.  

The City held the required 2 public hearings, as well as 3 budget workshops and 7 City Council meeting public comment periods.  I have been available for telephone calls, emails, meetings, and much face-to-face interaction regarding budget suggestions, as have all Council members.  The Council expressed support for all recommended changes, as well as a very positive reception and consensus for the 2020 Budget.

The 2020 Budget as now amended is uploaded with the 11/19/19 agenda materials, and is be available for review on the City website. 

Commissioner Madigan states:  “I believe this is an excellent budget for the City and taxpayers, with a stable tax rate and sufficient appropriations to face the 2020 budget year, and the future, feeling protected as well as enthusiastic!  I would like to thank the Council for its work, and I am proud to deliver to the taxpayers an eighth outstanding budget with no tax increase.”
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A Brief History of Failed City Attempts To Develop A City Parking Plan By Lew Benton

A Quick Look at Recent Parking and Parking Related Studies and RFPs

Twenty-Five Years of Parking Studies

Since 1994 there have been no less than seven (7) downtown parking “studies.” 

Some of these “studies” were ad hoc, others comprehensive. Two, with assistance from CDTC, employed consultants, others were conducted by special committees such as the 2002 “Mayor’s City Center Task Force,” the 2003 “Blue Ribbon Parking Committee” and the 2003 “Special Assessment District Parking Committee.”

Some were relatively simple and unsophisticated, others, such as the 2006 “Downtown Transportation Plan,” were complex and rooted in a planning process designed to balance downtown development patterns and their impacts on the transportation system. Some were clinical, others more value-laden.

But taken together they represent a significant contribution on how best to meet downtown parking needs, particularly in advance of the presumed added parking demand of an expanded City Center. 

And while not all came to the same findings, their conclusions and recommendations made were more congruent than not. 

Ultimately they all were rejected or simply ignored by City Councils unable to make public policy decisions or, as in the failure to pursue some of the recommendations in 2006 Downtown Transportation Plan, the advent of a new administration hostile to planning and lacking experience or interest in addressing complex issues.

That particular Plan was by the far the most sophisticated and comprehensive and was financed by the Capital District Transportation Committee, a federally funded metropolitan planning organization. It still has merit and deserves to be reviewed as part on any new initiative.

I hope that all these previous studies will at least become references as the new efforts begin.

Parking and Related RFPs

Added to these initiatives were several City Council released Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to develop existing City owned off street parking lots including the High Rock Avenue property, the Woodlawn Avenue lot and the so-called “Lillian’s” Broadway parking facility. 

In April 2007 the City solicited RFPs seeking private sector construction of at least 300 parking spaces on Woodlawn Avenue. The Woodlawn Avenue site was also, at that time, one of the two preferred sites to host the then proposed Public Safety Facility. 

In June of 2007 a response to the RFP was received. The proposal included construction of a 52,000 square foot Public Safety/Court Facility and a 500 space-parking garage which would have been transferred the City as part of a lease — buy back concept. The Council never responded.

On November 19, 2008, three proposals were received to develop a parking garage, a public safety facility and other uses including a cinema, “workforce” housing, retail and other commercial uses on the City’s High Rock Avenue property. 

These proposals also offered an opportunity to provide essential additional off street parking to support an expanded City Center (a need considered essential by the City Center Task Force.)

Some of the studies and responses to the referenced RFPs called for “paid parking” to finance additional parking structures, maintain existing parking facilities and construct a public safety facility. One response to the 2008 RFP included a one time upfront payment to the City of $4.5 million.

The then City Councils – having solicited those proposals — chose, as had been their custom, to essentially ignore them. 

Of course now a parking garage to be integrated with the City Center is under construction and the Lillian’s lot has appropriately redeveloped.

Parking Fees as an Operating Budget Revenue

While some of the referenced studies and essentially all of the responses to Council issued RFPs suggested some form of “paid” parking, none of the revenue would have been earmarked for operating expenses. Rather, parking generated revenue would go to capital projects and parking facility maintenance. 

It will be recalled that in 2009 the City budget officer included an anticipated “paid parking” revenue in the 2010 Operating Budget. That should never have been budgeted. It was a non-existent revenue source that was never endorsed by the City Council and was known to lack broad community support. 

Under the direction of the then commissioner of finance, a RFP was prepared and released in January. Less than two (2) pages of the 19 page RFP actually addressed the request’s Intent, Specifications, and Deliverables. The entire SCOPE OF WORK AND SPECIFICATIONS were presented in only one paragraph. 

The RFP failed to even incorporate by reference the parking studies that had previously been prepared or note the City’s current parking enforcement program, its costs and the revenues it generates. 

The essence of the request was this: “The City is expecting $1.3 million in 2010 paid parking revenue …” Little wonder that some potential respondents elected to ignore the RFP. The RFP was poorly constructed and lacked the specificity and references to fully acquaint potential vendors with existing dynamics. 

Of course nothing ever came from it except a built in $1.3 million revenue deficit..

But that was nearly ten years ago. The current City Council seems much more adept in defining policy and able to design, fund and install needed program and capital improvements.

Paid parking as a potential Operating Budget revenue should be rejected. If some form of paid parking is deemed to have merit, the revenue must be used — as past studies and recommendations have suggested — to install and maintain needed additional parking facilities and other essential infrastructure. 

Lew Benton
02/27/2010, 11/21/2019

Saratoga Hospital Gets High Financial Rating from S&P

It may not be the sexist of stories, but given the critical role the Hospital plays in our community the news release below indicating that its financial condition is very strong is excellent news.

N E W S   R E L E A S E

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 12, 2019

S&P Affirms Saratoga Hospital’s ‘A’ Rating

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., November 12, 2019—For the second year in a row, Saratoga Hospital has earned an ‘A’ rating from S&P Global Ratings, which noted the hospital’s strong, consistent operating performance, solid unrestricted reserves, growing admissions and leading market share.

S&P also cited Saratoga Hospital’s “favorable affiliation” with Albany Med. The S&P outlook for Saratoga Hospital remains “stable.”

The hospital continues to be one of the highest rated in New York state.

“The ‘A’ rating affirms the financial strength of our hospital and results in significant benefits to our community,” said Gary Foster, Saratoga Hospital vice president and chief financial officer. “We continue to be well-positioned to add the technology, talent and programs that are essential to the long-term health of the Saratoga region.”

Because A-rated bonds are more attractive to banks and other investors, Saratoga Hospital can finance capital improvements at lower interest rates. That frees more resources to invest in patient care.

The S&P report described Saratoga Hospital’s financial profile as “very strong” and pointed to its “multiyear history of producing stable financial margins and cash flow” as well as its “prudent expense management and revenue growth initiatives.” The report also noted supply-chain, purchasing and other efficiencies made possible by the hospital’s affiliation with Albany Med and Columbia Memorial Health and resulting in millions of dollars in annual savings. 

Saratoga Hospital sought its first S&P rating in 2003 when issuing bonds to help finance construction of Saratoga Surgery Center on the Wilton campus. The hospital’s rating has been upgraded from ‘BBB+’ in 2003 to ‘A-’ in 2012 to ‘A’ in 2018.

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About Saratoga Hospital: Saratoga Hospital is the Saratoga region’s leading healthcare provider and the only acute-care facility in Saratoga County. The hospital’s multispecialty practice, Saratoga Hospital Medical Group, provides care at more than 20 locations, ensuring easy access to programs and services that can have the greatest impact on individual and community health. Saratoga Hospital has maintained Magnet designation for nursing excellence since 2004. Through its affiliation with Columbia Memorial Health and Albany Med, Saratoga Hospital is part of the largest locally governed health system in the region. For more information: www.saratogahospital.org or www.facebook.com/SaratogaHospital.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

Peter Hopper

Director, Marketing and Communications

518.583.8679

phopper@saratogahospital.org