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.

21 thoughts on “City Faces Devastating Staffing Cuts”

  1. If you guys do not restart the economy,
    ALL THIS WILL BE MOOT.

    Broadway is dead.
    “Stronger Together” should read: “DEADER TOGETHER.”

    You all need to get back to work.
    You all need to act now!
    Re-open downtown businesses now, or lose it all.

    Saratoga is dying.
    Wake up people.

    Sweden had it right.
    Let’s lead the way!

    -JC

    Like

    1. Sweden has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and the highest associated death rate of any Scandinavian country. They are allowing this very contagious virus to spread in order to eventually develop a herd immunity. Unfortunately, given the significantly higher death rate, other severe symptoms, lack of effective pharmaceuticals available, new information on a possible COVID-19 syndrome attacking children and the many unknowns of the long-term consequences of this disease, the Swedish experiment on their citizens might not turn out so well. Many international epidemiologists are horrified at what Sweden has done.

      Chris Mathiesen

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed BUT:
      Shutting down the economy will have a far greater negative impact.
      The psychological consequences alone should be a cause for concern.
      Imagine a parent trying to explain to their children what “non-essential” means.

      People need to work.
      The city needs the revenue.
      Without sales tax, room tax and traffic enforcement revenues, Saratoga will be in the red in short order.

      Either you all stand up and fight or you sink the boat for the rest.
      It’s your call.

      Check out these articles, found online:
      https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01098-x
      https://www.globalresearch.ca/why-sweden-succeeded-while-others-failed/5711594
      https://www.globalresearch.ca/corona-aftermath/5708875

      Be strong.
      Stand up and fight.
      Stop being afraid and think for yourselves.
      Do it for our prosperity; the children.

      That’s what our 96 year old uncle said.
      He is also not afraid to die. Why are we so scared?
      G-d bless his generation!

      Baruch Ha’Shem,

      JC 😐

      Like

      1. Have to disagree Justin.
        To twist a famous quote “It’s NOT the economy. stupid”
        It’s about saving lives. Maybe your spouse, or a neighbor, or a sibling, or a child or grandchild. Life is more important. This too shall pass.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Two of your links are from http://www.globalresearch.ca. That same site has said 9/11 was a false flag attack planned by the CIA and that the U.S. funds al-Qaeda. Per Wikipedia: According to PolitiFact, the Centre “has advanced specious conspiracy theories on topics like 9/11, vaccines and global warming.” Foreign Policy magazine has commented that the Centre “sells books and videos that ‘expose’ how the September 11 terrorist attacks were ‘most likely a special covert action’ to ‘further the goals of corporate globalization.'” A 2010 study categorized the website as a source of anti-vaccine misinformation. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab described it as “pro-Putin and anti-NATO”. The Jewish Tribune described the Centre as being “rife with anti-Jewish conspiracy theory and Holocaust denial.” Writing for the New Republic, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, Lecturer in Digital journalism at the University of Stirling, describes the Centre’s website as a “conspiracy site”.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Chossudovsky#Centre_for_Research_on_Globalization

        Oh, and the author of the site has been accused of spreading pro-Russian propaganda. By my count, this is at least the second time a story you push has been shown to have Russian roots. Maybe stop reading sites that make baseless and ridiculous claims to get clicks from the gullible, and instead listen to credible scientists, journalists, and policy makers.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As we personally and publicly plan to economically rebuild, we are all in this together. We must accept what lies ahead.

    It is my hope that the County will partner with Supervisors Veitch and Gaston who are working to get the County to actually address the County budget. To date, all we have heard from the County is the party of 5’s plan to spend more money.

    Commissioner Madigan is to be commended for her fast response as well as her detailed communication of the city’s plan of action. Obviously deeper details will be shared over the days to come.

    It’s gonna be a challenging 2020 and 2021 for sure. I am thankful for our elected officials!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good point, Henry.

    Read this:
    Ayn Rand points out; “Life makes values both possible and necessary. We need to eat—in order to live and prosper. We need to wear protective clothing and find shelter—in order to live and prosper. We need to pursue a productive career to gain goods and services—in order to live and prosper. The principle holds true in more-complex cases as well. We need to build friendships to gain a wide variety of intellectual, psychological, and material benefits—in order to live and prosper. We need to experience great art to see our values in concrete form—in order to live and prosper. The pattern holds for all our values. Logically, the only ultimate reason we need to pursue any value is in order to live and prosper.”

    How does social distancing achieve that end?
    It’s a dilemma, alright.

    More here:
    https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2013/09/spocks-illogic-the-needs-of-the-many-outweigh-the-needs-of-the-few/

    The Rand quote and meat of the article mined in the latter half.
    Do we sacrifice “all” to save the few of us old geezers (present company exemplified)?
    …For whom nobody gave a rats behind in the first place?

    Thanks for the chuckle.
    Hey, you started it! (ha-ha-ha).

    Daring not to live in fear.
    Like walking the dog without a mask (oh my!).

    G-d bless,

    -JC 😉

    Like

    1. Ayn Rand’s philosophy is selfish nonsense from a documented hypocrite, but I’ll entertain your question of “How does social distancing achieve that end?” Your quote starts with “Life makes values both possible and necessary” and ends with “the only ultimate reason we need to pursue any value is in order to live and prosper.” In both is the idea of life/living. Socially distancing is a temporary pause of non-essential activities to ensure that life/living can continue for the many. Yes, the sad reality is that people die all the time from other means, such as car accidents or cancer. To minimize these death, society has taken measures in terms of safety (like seat belts and removing harmful chemicals from food) and pushed medical advances to the point where some form of treatment exists for many illnesses. Covid-19 presents a problem unlike anything almost anyone alive today has ever experienced, in that it is highly communicable, the mortality rate exceeds comparable illnesses, and no effective treatment exists. The exact degree of communicability and mortality is still being determined, but that uncertainty only furthers the need for extreme caution. For this reason socially distancing in the short term is the only rational choice. Businesses and economies can be rebuilt, life can not. It’s unfortunate that some business will not make it out of this, but the trade off for that is to lessen the lives lost, which has unfortunately negatively impacted the most vulnerable, as is the case with with crisis. Saying businesses need to open now is in effect telling the poor, elderly, and those with compromised health that they need to accept an increased chance of preventable death because of the selfish needs of a few. While this is on brand with Ayn Rand, it’s not what most people actually believe, as polling has shown. If there’s someone to be mad at it is the federal government, as in a functioning system led by the capable, the federal government would be using its resources to assist small businesses and adequately test, rather than pushing for actions that only benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

      Polling information:
      https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/reopening-country-greater-risk-americans-poll/story?id=70555060

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/americans-deeply-wary-of-reopening-as-white-house-weighs-ending-covid-19-task-force/2020/05/05/d2efcbbe-8eec-11ea-9e23-6914ee410a5f_story.html

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I have to say in societies more advanced than ours that have significant social safety nets and universal healthcare citizens are not faced with the untenable choice of “your money or your life”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Kids-

      Here’s a thought:
      Why not consider PA counties’ lead and defy Gov. Cuomo and re-open the region?

      https://www.mcall.com/news/pennsylvania/mc-nws-pa-schuylkill-coronavirus-yellow-20200509-nrl3lyd62zffthm6llvnyusena-story.html

      Our elected officials would be prudent in considering such an act.
      This governor is having difficulty understanding that the North Country is not Long Island.

      We must do everything in our power to keep our region’s freedoms intact.
      If we do not keep our economy healthy, all our families will suffer the consequences.
      The horses must run this summer.
      The schools and colleges must re-open this September.

      Do our leaders and readers, have the fortitude to meet the challenge?
      Remember Franklin:

      Please think for yourselves.
      Turn off Facebook, stop reading headlines and ask the question.
      Any question. Be the skeptical observer. Then research the answer.
      Read both sides; conspiracy and propaganda.
      Carlin called it “critical thinking.”

      And speaking of George Carlin…

      Be the sheep dog,

      JC 😐
      PS- The average deaths per year in NYS have not changed since 2017.
      Just more people are tagged “COVID-19.”
      Look it up, guys.

      Like

      1. The reason we shouldn’t defy the order is because the order is in place for a reason. Putting people at risk unnecessarily so that others can go out to eat or to the movies is a bad idea. Per the census website, 20% of Saratoga Springs is over 65, which is higher than the state (16%). This alone illustrates we should be more cautious than others, not less.

        Your Franklin quote isn’t on the level either. It was in regard to a tax dispute, and the word “purchase” was meant literally. It’s purpose was to defend legislative authority as it pertains to security. It basically means the opposite of what you seem to think it does. ( https://www.npr.org/2015/03/02/390245038/ben-franklins-famous-liberty-safety-quote-lost-its-context-in-21st-century )

        Per the NYTimes, NYC deaths in total from mid-March to early May were 23,000 higher than normal. The charts in the article below show how other states have fared compared to “normal” times. This increase is even more alarming given all the things that people aren’t doing because of the shutdown, like driving. Do you have support for your claim death totals are the same, preferably from a site that isn’t trafficking in Russian-pushed conspiracy theories? https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/05/us/coronavirus-death-toll-us.html

        To that point, I think you misunderstand what “critical thinking” means. By definition, using critical thinking a site that pushes unfounded and dangerous ideas without evidence should be ignored entirely, not shared due to some wrongheaded belief in “hearing both sides”. These same sites lead people to believe nonsense like Sandy Hook was faked using crisis actors, that the Holocaust didn’t really happen, that vaccines cause autism, and that global warming isn’t real. These are all nonsense, and cause pain on both an individual level (like the Sandy Hook parents who lost their children) and on a global scale (global warming is an existential threat for future generations). No one’s saying don’t read what you want, but I find it exceptionally frustrating that you shrug off health and policy experts, and instead say “ignore them, see what they’re saying on Site X [which may or may not be using foreign propaganda] without any support or fact checking”. Maybe take your own advice and “research the answer”.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Also, while you’re saying “Do it for our prosperity; the children.” and that “The schools and colleges must re-open this September.”, NYC and DC are reporting a new illness that effects children and is potentially related to Covid19. I say potentially because it’s link to the coronavirus is still being investigated, but in the meantime three children have died and dozens of other cases are pending. We still don’t quite know what we’re up against, and there remains no cure, or even adequate testing. A lot more work needs to be done before schools should even think of opening up.

        https://www.nbcnewyork.com/investigations/kawasaki-disease-up-to-5-ny-children-dead-85-sickened-by-rare-covid-related-illness/2411571/

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/childrens-national-reports-two-cases-of-rare-illness-in-children-with-covid-19/2020/05/11/688784f0-9398-11ea-91d7-cf4423d47683_story.html

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Sad…

    So, instead of discussing important issues, commenters are compelled to debunk a bunch of spewing junk from a bot- wannabe. Sad.

    Sadder still is that JK fails to respect his hard work as much as I, perhaps others do…instead allowing a bushel of disproven rumor/lunacy to pee all over, and dominate (hijack) his hard work.

    JK, I feel that the saddest situation of all is that your superior writing skills; your world-class research abilities are tragically compromised by your lack of apparent interest in moderating what could be a very useful tool for people to share ideas intelligently.

    As always, I speak for myself. Including here. I will not respond to the bot-wanabe’s rude call-outs (which we all know are coming) but if anyone wants to discuss real issues, I would welcome that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Guys,

      What is worse:
      Shutting down the economy (to protect the masses from some intangible fear) or poverty?
      Everyone, pretty much, has the virus. Some will get sick and the few, the most frail will die.
      Those that survive will carry on. This insanity must end.

      Why are so many living in fear?
      Please watch this:

      We need to fight.
      We need to work.
      Don’t give into the fear.

      Those of us old guys get it.
      Especially those of us of retirement age (and past…lol) that are still working.
      We are all essential.
      Yes?

      G-d bless,

      -JC 😉

      Like

      1. I am ending this thread with Justin’s comment.

        This blog is meant to be a vehicle where civil discussion about local issues can take place. The way forward in educating ourselves is by the thoughtful exchange of views. There are limits to the tolerance of this blog but so long as people do not express hateful sentiments there is a place for them.

        Justin’s arguments on why the city should open its businesses is reflective of a position put forward by a significant constituency. I share Andy’s skepticism of Justin’s sources and his well crafted counter arguments. I leave it to the readers of this blog to decide for themselves where the truth lies.

        I am ending this thread not because of my differences but because it has become repetitive.

        Liked by 5 people

  6. John–

    So, like Saratoga, this blog died, too.
    What a terrible casualty of the new reality.
    You were the last vestige.

    Godspeed; the new paradigm lost.
    Looks like Jim Kunstler is right.
    That old man was right — geezum!
    Who would’ve think it? (lol)

    Carry on JK,

    (Bruch Ha’Shem and all that)

    G-d bless and forgive us all,

    JC

    Like

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