FEMA Emergency Housing: Chaos and Disinformation

At the bottom of this post is a thread documenting the failed effort to secure FEMA money through the county for social distancing housing for the homeless in Saratoga Springs during the pandemic.

There are two particularly interesting elements to these exchanges besides the utter confusion of how to move forward and the valiant and feverish efforts of the city administration and SOS to secure money for housing.

Most interesting is the absence of any direct email from the county. Chad Cooke is the Deputy Administrator for Saratoga County working under County Administrator Spencer Hellwig. As far as can be ascertained from these emails, he is the only one from the county who actively worked on securing funds. How serious his effort may have been is obscured by this Rube Goldberg process. Unfortunately, he never communicates directly through these emails with anyone in the city. Instead Supervisor Gaston, rather than advocating that Cooke work with the city directly, assumes the role of intermediary that only adds to the confusion.

The other element that doomed this process was the claim by the county that SOS had already raised funds for the purpose of renting temporary shelter for the homeless. FEMA requires that moneys fundraised for a particular activity must be expended before FEMA funds can be made available. SOS had done some fundraising and had the purpose of that fundraising been to pay for the housing at the Holiday Inn, they would have had to use up this money prior to accessng FEMA funds. But this was not the case.

In her email (see below) Supervisor Gaston supports the county’s mistaken allegation as follows:

…because SOS moved forward with a fund-raising campaign to cover these expenses, any of the funds raised must be applied to hotel expenses before we can seek reimbursement – this is NOT a County decision, this is straight from FEMA. The only reimburseable expenses for non-congregate housing would therefore be those that exceed the funds that were raised.

Tara Gaston Email April 20, 20202

But the fundraising SOS did was to pay for staff, basic needs, and the rehabbing of a motel they had purchased for future housing, not for the temporary housing at the Holiday Inn. Karen Gregory, the executive director of SOS, asserts that she made this known to Supervisor Gaston to no avail.

Apparently the county and Supervisor Gaston used the fundraising appeal by SOS as the basis of their allegation but did not read those materials carefully enough.

This is a link to their fundraising appeal. Here are some excerpts. The first is the title:

ABOUT COVID-19 RESPONSE FUND

Shelters Website

The text of the appeal notes that

How do you quarantine at home when you have no home?  This is the question all of us at SOS are facing every day.  COVID-19 and its impact on people experiencing homelessness is a dire and evolving situation and we need your help.

SOS Website

But here are the specific items that they are soliciting money for:

We are asking the community to step forward and help us raise $150,000 by April 15, 2020 so that we can:

We are asking the community to step forward and help us raise $150,000 by April 15, 2020 so that we can:

purchase cleaning supplies, hand soap and hand sanitizer

outfit 8 motel rooms for proper social distancing of non-symptomatic individuals [JK: These rooms were in the motel purchased by SOS not the 34 rooms at the Holiday Inn]

outfit the newly leased Saratoga Senior Center with cleaning supplies and protective gear, which are vital to creating a hygienic environment to lessen the spread of the virus if one of our guests or staff become ill

keep front line staff who are working extra hours and extra hard safe and paid during this crisis

increase our access to increasingly scarce food sources through bulk purchases

SOS Website

It is not clear why in spite of Ms. Gregory’s efforts Supervisor Gaston and the county were either unwilling or unable to distinguish between the general needs of SOS which the fundraiser was trying to address and the specific immediate need for FEMA money to pay for the 34 rooms at the Holiday Inn. As none of the purposes of these funds was to rent temporary housing, a reasonable person would conclude that the FEMA moneys renting the Holiday Inn would not be replacing funds raised money.

Our county has an appallingly bad record of dealing with our low income population. While it was many years ago, I had to endure dealing with the county’s social service department when I was executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council. The DSS routinely demonstrated an indifference or even hostility to people in desperate straights. It was routine for them to refuse to help a single mother with a homeless family on a bitter cold, winter Friday night. The attitude expressed by the department was reflective of the ethos of a clique that dominated the county legislature.

I find it truly disheartening that in this case Supervisor Gaston rather than looking critically at how the county handled this, has used these deplorable events to attack Mayor Kelly and Karen Gregory who actually succeeded in housing the homeless.


The Email Thread


From: “Tara N Gaston” <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>
To: “Michele Madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>, “Marilyn Rivers” <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “Skip Scirocco” <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck” <john.franck@saratoga-springs.org>, “Robin Dalton” <robin.dalton@saratoga-springs.org>, “Chad Cooke” <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Matthew Veitch” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Meg Kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, “Shane Crooks” <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>, “Vince DeLeonardis” <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, “Joe Dolan” <jdolan@ssfdny.org>, “m lynn bachner” <m.lynn.bachner@saratoga-springs.org>, “Karen Gregory” <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 1:39:28 PM
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

CAUTION: This email originated outside of the City network. Please contact IT Support if you need assistance determining if it’s a threat before opening attachments or clicking any links.


Matt and I will be seeking approval today from the Board to move forward – should that decision be made – but this does not bind us to seeking funding/reimbursement. The final decision can be made later, but this way we won’t need to wait until the next full Board meeting to move forward if that decision is made.

Wash your hands (with soap!), 

Supervisor Tara N. Gaston 

Pronouns: she/her

Saratoga Springs

tngaston@saratogacountyny.gov

518-934-1944


My working hours may not be your working hours. I do not expect a reply outside of your normal work schedule unless this email is marked as urgent. Thank you!


From: Michele Madigan <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 1:35 PM
To: Marilyn L Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: Skip Scirocco <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>; John Franck <john.franck@saratoga-springs.org>; Robin Dalton <robin.dalton@saratoga-springs.org>; Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>; Chad Cooke <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>; Matthew Veitch <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>; Meg Kelly <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>; Shane Crooks <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>; Vince DeLeonardis <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>; Joe Dolan <jdolan@ssfdny.org>; Lynn Bachner <m.lynn.bachner@saratoga-springs.org>; Karen Gregory <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

Thank you for this further clarification.  

Commissioner Madigan

Michele Madigan

Commissioner of Finance

City of Saratoga Springs

474 Broadway

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550 


PLEASE NOTE OUR TEMPORARY LOCATION AT THE RECREATION CENTER, 15 VANDERBILT AVENUE


Confidentiality/Privilege Notice: This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs and are intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to which it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or taking any other action with respect to the contents of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail. Thank you for your cooperation. 


From: “Marilyn L Rivers” <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
To: “Michele Madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “Skip Scirocco” <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck” <john.franck@saratoga-springs.org>, “Robin Dalton” <robin.dalton@saratoga-springs.org>, “Tara N Gaston” <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Chad Cooke” <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Veitch Matt” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Meg Kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, “Shane Crooks” <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>, “Vince DeLeonardis” <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, “Joe Dolan” <jdolan@ssfdny.org>, “Lynn Bachner” <m.lynn.bachner@saratoga-springs.org>, “Karen Gregory” <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 1:27:07 PM
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

The City Council has many options available to it. Supervisors Gaston and Veitch are working with Chad Cooke and the County to try and get the necessary paperwork in place to begin the reimbursement process per the FEMA requirements to assist Shelters. At present, should Shelters of Saratoga wish to seek reimbursement from FEMA at some point in time for COVID-19, they must meet the FEMA criteria.

The County is correct in that it is the entity that would seek reimbursement for Shelters as the majority of its participants are tracked as coming from outside the City but within County limits. Because the majority of their guests have been traced back to multiple other communities within the County outside of the City, they are the agency that would make the request on behalf of Shelters should Shelters decide to seek FEMA reimbursement.

It is important to note that Shelters does not have to seek reimbursement from FEMA.

It is an option should they choose to do so. What the County and City are attempting to do is lay the foundation should Shelters decide to seek potential FEMA reimbursement. Without that foundation, no FEMA reimbursement is possible.  The biggest hurdle Shelters is trying to overcome is to meet the original FEMA criteria for Non-Congregate Sheltering. The County is trying to help after the fact in the best way possible.

Shelters of Saratoga is the ultimate decision maker in this scenario. They need their legal counsel to assist them in determining what is best for them. The City and County appear to stand ready to help maneuver the FEMA process, but it appears Shelters may not take that route.

PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL:

This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs Risk and Safety Department and is intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to whom it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination or copying of this e-mail is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail.

Thank you for your cooperation.


From: “Michele Madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>
To: “Marilyn Rivers” <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “Skip Scirocco” <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck” <john.franck@saratoga-springs.org>, “Robin Dalton” <robin.dalton@saratoga-springs.org>, “Tara N Gaston” <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Chad Cooke” <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Matt Veitch” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Meg Kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, “Shane Crooks” <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>, “Vincent DeLeonardis” <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, “Lieutenant Joseph J. Dolan” <jdolan@ssfdny.org>, “Lynn Bachner” <m.lynn.bachner@saratoga-springs.org>, “Karen Gregory” <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 1:11:00 PM
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

To clarify, I believe we need more time to think this through and discuss.  Is there a hard fast deadline on this issue that is needed today, prior to the Board of Supervisor’s Meeting today?  I could use more information, specifically legal advice.  

If the final answer is that this will wipe-out SOS’s entire 150k from their “annual” fundraiser, we should discuss as a council and consider a redefined option 2 or some other option 3.  But I’m also trying to figure out how we handle this on a go-forward basis with FEMA.

Thanks again, 

Michele

Michele Madigan

Commissioner of Finance

City of Saratoga Springs

474 Broadway

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550 


PLEASE NOTE OUR TEMPORARY LOCATION AT THE RECREATION CENTER, 15 VANDERBILT AVENUE


Confidentiality/Privilege Notice: This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs and are intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to which it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or taking any other action with respect to the contents of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail. Thank you for your cooperation. 


From: “Michele Madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>
To: “Marilyn L Rivers” <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “Skip Scirocco” <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck” <john.franck@saratoga-springs.org>, “Robin Dalton” <robin.dalton@saratoga-springs.org>, “Tara N Gaston” <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Chad Cooke” <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Veitch Matt” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Meg Kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, “Shane Crooks” <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>, “Vince DeLeonardis” <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, “Joe Dolan” <jdolan@ssfdny.org>, “Karen Gregory” <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>, “Lynn Bachner” <m.lynn.bachner@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 12:55:32 PM
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

Marilyn and Council and others,

First, I need to clarify some of the circumstances. I understand that SOS (please correct any of the following):

1 – Obtained about $62K from the City’s CDBG fund to cover the first month of hotel costs.
2 – Is now seeking FEMA funds for at least xx more months of hotel costs.
3 – Has completed an “annual fundraiser” that was also described as fundraiser for COVID-19 expenses, raising $150K.
4 – The County states that it, not the City is the appropriate entity for seeking FEMA reimbursement.
5 – The County requires an agreement to “cover these expenses” with the City, and will subsequently seek FEMA reimbursement for 75%.
6 – FEMA reimbursement will only cover amounts need above and beyond amounts that SOS has available to cover COVID-19 costs, including hotel. Since SOS had a fundraiser that was represented as a “COVID-19 Fundraiser” all of these funds will have to be utilized before and reimbursement is allowable.   In the alternative, the County may enter into a minor contract for up to $15,000, which does not require full Board approval, and could be used to defray expenses “in addition to any other available sources.”

We need to determine the best way forward to meet our fiscal responsibilities to the city and county.  If we contract with the county, option #1, there is a greater likelihood, on a go forward basis I assume, that we will obtain reimbursement for our federal funds that are expended on behalf of SOS and our other non-profits: there are many and they are in need to especially for our various food pantries and soup kitchens operating in the city and county.  This coupled with the strong possibility that we may be receiving additional CDBG entitlement funding in the near future ensures that we must have the reimbursement process and procedures down cold.

There was information from FEMA that came to us about “exigency or emergency” we could “just move forward”, and I believe this would pertain to the 62K CDBG grant to SOS. This money was approved by City Council with little expectation of FEMA reimbursement and is a worthy re-purpose of CDBG funds. 

But an RFP might have been helpful, so can we get one done now?  Additionally, I don’t have a response as it pertains to the covid-19 fund raiser hosted by SOS.  It is true that this has been a public fundraiser that seems specific to covid-19 and was to include hotel rooms and other services.  I would need legal advice to understand better how the fundraiser impacts FEMA reimbursement.  It is hard to believe that the FEMA rules or the County’s suggestion are meant to wipe out all of a non-profits funds for the entire year. This would be counterproductive to say the least. Especially when it is due to an unwittingly worded marketing tool that inadvertently rendered the non-profit ineligible for FEMA reimbursement.

I think our best option is to support option #1 as outlined below – at least as far as SOS goes since a large percentage of the people being helped by these funds are from throughout the county, but I say this as we move-on in a go forward basis.  But, if requesting FEMA reimbursement will unequivocally wipe out the $150K, I think we should consider Option 2 and look for an Option 3. If we pursue option 2, I would ask the County to consider an amount that more closely represents 75% of the monthly cost (which at this point is $62K) of housing 35 people.

Thank you so much for providing all this information.  I’m not sure I have been all that helpful, but as I read through all of this – it’s more complicated that I originally assumed.  If for some reason I have something not quite correct about my position going forward, I am happy to further discuss.   

Three council members have weighed in with option 1 and I’m not sure exactly what that means at this time and I am not opposed to this option on a go forward basis.

Thank you,

Commissioner Madigan

Michele Madigan

Commissioner of Finance

City of Saratoga Springs

474 Broadway

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550 


PLEASE NOTE OUR TEMPORARY LOCATION AT THE RECREATION CENTER, 15 VANDERBILT AVENUE


Confidentiality/Privilege Notice: This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs and are intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to which it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or taking any other action with respect to the contents of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail. Thank you for your cooperation. 


From: “Marilyn L Rivers” <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
To: “Michele Madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org>, “Skip Scirocco” <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck” <john.franck@saratoga-springs.org>, “Robin Dalton” <robin.dalton@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: “Tara N Gaston” <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Chad Cooke” <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Veitch Matt” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Meg Kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, “Shane Crooks” <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>, “Vince DeLeonardis” <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, “Joe Dolan” <jdolan@ssfdny.org>, “Karen Gregory” <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 10:25:58 AM
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

City Council:

I write this email to you to obtain your direction in dealing with an issue pertaining to FEMA funding regarding Shelters of Saratoga. You will see an email train within this email outlining the journey Shelters and the County are currently undertaking.

I need your answer before NOON today.

On April 7th, 2020 you as a City Council unanimously approved CDBG Block Grant Funds in the amount of $61,950 to fund an emergency COVID-19 response for homeless housing for Code Blue at the Holiday Inn here in Saratoga Springs. Shelters of Saratoga immediately thereafter began housing approximately 35 guests at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs. I have been informed that 25% of the population is comprised of Saratoga Springs residents and the other 75% of the guests belonging to various communities in the County.

Shelters of Saratoga has run a fundraising campaign called the “COVID-19 Response Fund.” I’ve attached a PDF of their web page explaining their fundraising efforts. The page indicates that Shelters as of this date has meet their goal of $150,000.

Shelters of Saratoga is now seeking FEMA funding. They along with Mayor Kelly have been in contact with Supervisors Gaston and Veitch to work with County officials on attempting to obtain reimbursement for their efforts. Chad Cooke at the County is working with them on this endeavor. There have been strenuous conversations regarding this matter.

The FEMA requirements are at issue. Before Shelters of Saratoga initiated their hotel accommodation endeavor, they needed to have obtained a directive from the Saratoga County Department of Health directing them to establish the accommodations for “Non-congregate Sheltering” based upon a medical need. Please see the attached FEMA PowerPoint Sheet on Non-congregate Housing.

The County has offered two (2) avenues of assistant=ce to Shelters of Saratoga thanks to the hard work of Supervisors Gaston and Veitch and Saratoga County Deputy Administrator Chad Cooke:

On Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 9:11 PM Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov> wrote:

Thank you all for your patience. After a number of discussions, it appears that there are two options moving forward with this: 

  1. The County – as the legally responsible public health entity – would contract to cover the hotel expenses with the City and then the County can seek up to 75% reimbursement from FEMA. A note about this, however, is that because SOS moved forward with a fund-raising campaign to cover these expenses, any of the funds raised must be applied to hotel expenses before we can seek reimbursement – this is NOT a County decision, this is straight from FEMA. The only reimburseable expenses for non-congregate housing would therefore be those that exceed the funds that were raised. This agreement with the City would require full Board approval, which Matt/I can put forward tomorrow at the Board meeting.
  2. The other option is for Spencer to enter into a minor contract for up to $15,000, which does not require full Board approval, and could be used to defray expenses in addition to any other sources available. 

Matt and I are open to whichever option is preferred. I recognize that neither option is ideal, but at this late date in the process it is what we are able to do with regards to FEMA funding. I would also like to recognize Chad, who has spent a lot of time seeking out other possibilities and clarifying the guidance. 

The discussion thus far has been passionate for both Mayor Kelly and Karen Gregory.

The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors meet today at 4PM.

I need City Council needs to let us know which option they support with regard to this matter. Option 1 or 2.

Please remember that Shelters of Saratoga Serves all of the County. It serves approximately 25% of the City’s needs. It is thus best to have the County take the lead on Shelters FEMA reimbursement, not the City. Regardless, of who, however does assist in applying for FEMA funding.

All entities across the nation must follow FEMA federal guidelines to obtain federal FEMA funds. They are written in stone and non-negotiable.

Please assist me in helping Supervisors Gaston and Veitch. Which option should they pursue.

I need your answer before NOON today.

I apologize for the short notice.

Thank you,

Marilyn

PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL:

This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs Risk and Safety Department and is intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to whom it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination or copying of this e-mail is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail.

Thank you for your cooperation.


From: “Karen Gregory” <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
To: “Tara N Gaston” <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>
Cc: “Chad Cooke” <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Marilyn Rivers” <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>, “Matt Veitch” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Meg Kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, “Shane Crooks” <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>, “Vincent DeLeonardis” <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, “Lieutenant Joseph J. Dolan” <jdolan@ssfdny.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 8:14:49 AM
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

CAUTION: This email originated outside of the City network. Please contact IT Support if you need assistance determining if it’s a threat before opening attachments or clicking any links.


So let me understand this one more time – you are saying that the money I raised to secure the safety of my agency needs to be redirected to the hotel in order to continue. Is this in writing somewhere? Obviously, you all know I cannot risk the security of my agency and my board would never approve. 

So, in 14 days, I will be handing out tents to 35 people and putting them outside during a pandemic when all of the guidance is telling us the exact opposite.  Homeless communities all over the Country are being impacted and people are dying. 

Can the County provide the FEMA guidance or sections of the law that mandate the use of SOS funds raised prior to the use of FEMA funds for hotel stays for the homeless?  

Thank you. 

On Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 9:11 PM Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov> wrote:

Thank you all for your patience. After a number of discussions, it appears that there are two options moving forward with this: 

  1. The County – as the legally responsible public health entity – would contract to cover the hotel expenses with the City and then the County can seek up to 75% reimbursement from FEMA. A note about this, however, is that because SOS moved forward with a fund-raising campaign to cover these expenses, any of the funds raised must be applied to hotel expenses before we can seek reimbursement – this is NOT a County decision, this is straight from FEMA. The only reimburseable expenses for non-congregate housing would therefore be those that exceed the funds that were raised. This agreement with the City would require full Board approval, which Matt/I can put forward tomorrow at the Board meeting.
  2. The other option is for Spencer to enter into a minor contract for up to $15,000, which does not require full Board approval, and could be used to defray expenses in addition to any other sources available. 

Matt and I are open to whichever option is preferred. I recognize that neither option is ideal, but at this late date in the process it is what we are able to do with regards to FEMA funding. I would also like to recognize Chad, who has spent a lot of time seeking out other possibilities and clarifying the guidance. 

Wash your hands (with soap!), 

Supervisor Tara N. Gaston 

Pronouns: she/her

Saratoga Springs

tngaston@saratogacountyny.gov

518-934-1944


My working hours may not be your working hours. I do not expect a reply outside of your normal work schedule unless this email is marked as urgent. Thank you!


From: Marilyn Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Monday, April 20, 2020 8:45 PM
To: Karen Gregory <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
Cc: Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>; Matthew Veitch <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>; Chad Cooke <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>; Vince DeLeonardis <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>; Meg Kelly <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>; jdolan <jdolan@ssfdny.org>; Shane Crooks <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>


Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

We need the required documentation in place before any submission to FEMA can take place.

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

——– Original message ——–

From: Karen Gregory <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>

Date: 4/20/20 8:30 PM (GMT-05:00)

To: Marilyn Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>

Cc: Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>, Matt Veitch <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, Chad Cooke <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, Vince DeLeonardis <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>, Meg Kelly <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, jdolan <jdolan@ssfdny.org>, Shane Crooks <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>

Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

CAUTION: This email originated outside of the City network. Please contact IT Support if you need assistance determining if it’s a threat before opening attachments or clicking any links.


We need to sustain these 35 hotel rooms for at least 2 more months – this will cost the County nothing – this will be covered by FEMA.

On Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 8:27 PM Karen Gregory <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org> wrote:

Hi Everyone – so everyone is clear as to what is needed.  

The goal is to get FEMA funding to cover the cost of hotel rooms to keep 35 homeless people from Shelters of Saratoga who are being fed and case managed in the Holiday Inn while we help them to get employment and housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We need the DOH to declare that they are directing this to happen.

The City then with SOS can apply for the funds from FEMA and we can continue keeping people safe and supported. This will lead to permanent housing and employment.

Please, I am asking that we do not over complicate this.  All we need is the County Department of Public Health to make this directive, please.  Then, Marilyn, we will need you to take the lead on writing the grant.

I don’t think I am missing anything with this – but, we are running out of time.  Please, the last thing we need is to put this population outside into the community during this pandemic.

Folks, 1 in ever 3 homeless individuals in Boston has contracted the virus. The reason we are not seeing those numbers in Saratoga is because we were proactive and we saved lives and did not infect the City. 

Please, this is incredibly time sensitive.

Thank you.

Karen

On Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 8:04 PM Marilyn Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org> wrote:

Would someone please tell me what the City needs to do to remedy this quagmire? 

I want to help.  Please tell me how to help.

Please…

Marilyn Rivers 

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

——– Original message ——–

From: Meg Kelly <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>

Date: 4/20/20 5:54 PM (GMT-05:00)

To: Marilyn Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>

Cc: Karen Gregory <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>, Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>, Matt Veitch <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, Chad Cooke <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, Vince DeLeonardis <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>

Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

Tara are you all set for your meeting tomorrow?

Also did you get Cathi Duncan to sign Lindsey’s letter?

Ty

Meg

Sent from my iPhone

On Apr 20, 2020, at 5:31 PM, Marilyn Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org> wrote:

I have not heard anything throughout the day. Are you folks all set for tomorrow? If not, please let me know how I can assist.

Best,

Marilyn

PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL:

This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs Risk and Safety Department and is intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to whom it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination or copying of this e-mail is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail.

Thank you for your cooperation.


From: “Karen Gregory” <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
To: “Tara N Gaston” <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>
Cc: “Chad Cooke” <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Marilyn Rivers” <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>, “Matt Veitch” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, “Meg Kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>
Sent: Monday, April 20, 2020 3:20:24 PM
Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

CAUTION: This email originated outside of the City network. Please contact IT Support if you need assistance determining if it’s a threat before opening attachments or clicking any links.


Any updates anyone? 

On Sun, Apr 19, 2020 at 3:06 PM Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov> wrote:

Yes, the County would be the applicant. Chad said he would have more information tomorrow, so let’s wait for him to get back to more and we’ll sort it out. Rest assured Matt and I (and Chad mostly!) are on the case. 

Supervisor Tara N. Gaston

Saratoga Springs

tngaston@saratogacountyny.gov

518-934-1944

Pronouns: she/her

My working hours may not be your working hours. I do not expect a reply outside of your normal work schedule unless this email is marked as urgent. Thank you!


From: Karen Gregory <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>
Sent: Sunday, April 19, 2020 2:09:02 PM
To: Marilyn Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org>
Cc: Chad Cooke <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>; Matthew Veitch <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>; Meg Kelly <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>; Shane Crooks <scrooks@saratogapolice.org>; Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>; Vince DeLeonardis <Vince.Deleonardis@saratoga-springs.org>; jdolan <jdolan@ssfdny.org>


Subject: Re: FEMA Funding Shelters of Saratoga

My impression is that SOS cannot apply for funding for this…the City or County must. However, I am going to need funding to cover staffing & food/supplies. 

On Sun, Apr 19, 2020 at 11:45 AM Marilyn Rivers <marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org> wrote:

Has a FEMA application already been made for the funds for Shelters of Saratoga? If so, who made or is making the application? The City can easily do an MOU with Shelters of Saratoga for the services Sheltersis supplying, but I’m understanding that 75% of the recipients are from out of the City from other areas of the County.  That is why we need your assistance. 

Tara and Matt please tell us what you need for Tuesday’s meeting and we’ll try and get it for you.

I apologize for seeming to be confused.  I’m coming in after the fact trying to help.   For the record,  the City has only just begun its FEMA process for reimbursement. We are still in the documentation phase.

This is an extraordinary situation for all of us.  Tell me what you need to make this happen. 

Thank you, 

Marilyn 

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

——– Original message ——–

From: Meg Kelly <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>

Date: 4/19/20 11:32 AM (GMT-05:00)

To: Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov>

Cc: Karen Gregory <kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org>, Matthew Veitch <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov>, Chad Cooke <ccooke@saratogacountyny.gov>, marilyn.rivers@saratoga-springs.org

Subject: Re: FEMA Funding

Tara,

I did ask Spencer to split this and I asked for 30k before the fema application was out. He said he will bring it to the meeting. Should I prompt him or not? Your call.

Thank you

Meg

Sent from my iPhone

On Apr 19, 2020, at 11:23 AM, Tara N Gaston <TNGaston@saratogacountyny.gov> wrote:

CAUTION: This email originated outside of the City network. Please contact IT Support if you need assistance determining if it’s a threat before opening attachments or clicking any links.


Mayor and Karen: 

I just spoke to Chad about the application for FEMA funding for non-congregate housing. I understand that an agreement between the City and County is required in order for this to take place, but believe that I have resolved many/most of the concerns on the County’s behalf. This will need to be brought up at the next County meeting Tuesday. Chad will be providing additional information as he has it tomorrow, but I understand Marilyn Rivers was also working on what was needed in the agreement. If anyone has additional information that Matt and I can bring forward at the meeting on Tuesday, please let us know. We want to push this as quickly as possible, but need to be kept in the loop so we can answer questions from fellow Supervisors as necessary. 

Thank you very much for all of your work on this keeping people healthy, and we look forward to getting this through the Board. 

Wash your hands (with soap!), 

Supervisor Tara N. Gaston 

Pronouns: she/her

Saratoga Springs

tngaston@saratogacountyny.gov

518-934-1944


My working hours may not be your working hours. I do not expect a reply outside of your normal work schedule unless this email is marked as urgent. Thank you!

Confidentiality/Privilege Notice: This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs and are intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to which it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or taking any other action with respect to the contents of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail. Thank you for your cooperation.

Confidentiality/Privilege Notice: This e-mail communication and any files transmitted with it contain privileged and confidential information from the City of Saratoga Springs and are intended solely for the use of the individual(s) or entity to which it has been addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or taking any other action with respect to the contents of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please delete it and notify the sender by return e-mail. Thank you for your cooperation.

Thank you.

Karen A. Gregory

Executive Director

Shelters of Saratoga

14 Walworth Street

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Phone: 518.581.1097 x 301

Fax: 518.581.8735

Email: kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org

Thank you.

Karen A. Gregory

Executive Director

Shelters of Saratoga

14 Walworth Street

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Phone: 518.581.1097 x 301

Fax: 518.581.8735

Email: kgregory@sheltersofsaratoga.org

Latest On City’s Budget Issues

According to an article in the Gazette Newspaper, Adirondack Trust was the successful bidder for the short term bond (twelve months) against anticipated city tax revenues. The interest was just .15 percent. I know that Commissioner Madigan was concerned about the rate the city might have had to pay so this appears to be good news.

The article also reported that the city issued $7.4 million in long term bonds which have an interest rate of only 2.15 percent.

Commissioner Madigan attributed the attractive rates to the city’s high bond rating of AA+ for the last nine years.

According to the article

In addition to borrowing, Madigan’s plan to balance the city budget this year includes drawing $6.5 million from the city’s fund balance, asking for $3.4 million in expense cuts by city departments, and achieving at least $277,000 savings from a voluntary employee furlough program.

Gazette June 5, 2020

I remain confused as to how $6.5 million plus $3.4 million plus $277,000.00 will fill the projected city deficit this year of $15 million to $17 million. I have sufficient faith in Commissioner Madigan and the council that there is a solution hidden in all of this.

Commissioner Madigan Takes Strong Exception To Release By Blogger

In covering the continuing fiscal crisis the city is facing I published a spreadsheet produced by the Department of Finance that addressed the city’s monthly cash flow. This was the same information that had been sought by Accounts Commissioner John Franck.

In a spirited email to me, Commissioner Michele Madigan asserted that the spreadsheet was an internal document and that my decision to publish the document was inappropriate. She advised that she would no longer be responding to my communications to her.

In fact, this is a public document and FOILable, but also this document was and is available on the web. Because the city is seeking a bond to address the immediate need to cover the June payroll, the city was required to publish a variety of information. This is because investors have a right to information about the city in order to assess the risk of such bonds. The spreadsheet was part of a larger document prepared by the law firm the city engaged to issue the bond, Walsh and Walsh, LLP. The spreadsheet is on page 43.

I have sympathy for Commissioner Madigan’s response to me. She is under a great deal of stress. Commissioner Madigan is dedicated to this city and to the need to inform its citizens. I am hopeful that over time she will reconsider communicating with me.

Readers of this blog may recall that I had previously sent her a series of questions about the city’s plans to address the $15 to $17 million dollar short fall projected by Commissioner Madigan. At the time she had emailed me that she planned to address my questions. At least in the short run, this is not going to happen.

Police Take The Knee In Schenectady

There was a march today (May 31, 2020) in Saratoga Springs in response to the death of George Floyd, the latest victim of police violence in our country. The march began at the Spirit of Life statue in Congress Park. Lt. JasonMitchell expressed his regrets over the death of George Floyd to the assembled demonstrators. From there, led by Mayor Meg Kelly, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, the group marched to city hall. Mayor Kelly addressed the crowd calling for justice, kindness, and community. The group returned to the park where they dispersed.

Here is a link to the rally: https://cbs6albany.com/news/local/saratoga-springs-sees-peaceful-protest

In Schenectady, in a deeply moving statement of solidarity, the Schenectady police took the knee with local demonstrators.

https://www.news10.com/video/schenectady-protest/5552944/

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! 

Supervisor Tara Gaston: Credibility Gap

An article by Wendy Liberatore was published in the May 20,2020, edition of the Times Union under the headline “Saratoga’s Cost for Homeless Lodging Won’t Get Federal Reimbursement.”

The unflattering story based mostly on an interview with Tara Gaston alleged that due to the ineptitude of the Saratoga Springs administration, the city ended up having to pay for housing the homeless in the Holiday Inn for a month during the pandemic. The story was inaccurate on multiple levels but the source of the misinformation appears to be primarily Supervisor Tara Gaston.

This is a classic story that documents the old adage that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Before going into the details of Supervisor Gaston’s unfortunate role in this episode it is important to tell what should have been the story.

Karen Gregory, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga (SOS), was facing a crisis. Covid-19 threatened the homeless she was sheltering because the available facilities did not allow for social distancing.

In Boston one in every three homeless persons has contracted the virus.

The issue was not only the danger to the homeless persons but to the wider community that they might infect and to the first responders and hospital staff who would need to assist them.

The reality was that earnest attempts to get assistance from Saratoga County proved fruitless when the pandemic hit. It was the city through the intervention of Mayor Kelly using federal Community Block Grant money that funded the first month of housing. Through Ms. Gregory’s tireless fundraising along with the generosity of our community the money for an additional month was raised.

As a result of their efforts none of the homeless people they served came down with the virus. This was an extraordinary achievement. Pretty much every other city’s homeless populations were badly hit by this virus but our people were spared.

The headline should have been: “COVID19 Infection of Homeless Population Averted”.

I congratulate both Ms. Gregory and Mayor Kelly along with their respective staff for this wonderful achievement.

The Unfortunate Story of Supervisor Gaston and Our County Government

Around the third week in March Ms. Gregory contacted Tina Potter, the Commissioner of the Saratoga County Department of Social Services (AKA welfare department) for assistance. Now an uninformed person might have expected Commissioner Potter to recognize the urgency of this situation and suggest they team up to find the resources necessary to address this pressing issue. Instead Commissioner Potter dismissed the query. She informed Ms. Gregory that support would only be available for persons who were diagnosed with the disease.

Ms. Gregory pointed out the obvious, that by the time a person was diagnosed with the disease they would have infected many people around them including staff and any businesses like a Stewarts that they might have been in contact with. Commissioner Potter made clear that this was not the county’s problem and that Ms. Gregory would need to find another solution.

Ms. Gregory then approached Mayor Meg Kelly. The Mayor recognized the urgency of acting with all speed and contacted Cathi Duncan, Director of Public Health. The motto on Ms. Duncan’s website reads:

It is our mission to assess, improve, and monitor the health status of the community

Mayor Kelly and Ms. Gregory then met with Director Duncan. Director Duncan acknowledged the seriousness of the situation but told the Mayor that there was nothing she could do until someone tested positive for the disease.

In the meantime, counter to the headline of the Times Union that alleged the city was unable to secure federal money for the housing, Mayor Kelly drew on $61,950.00 from Federal Community Development Grant moneys to pay for the initial housing for the homeless at the Holiday Inn. She did not draw from the city’s fund balance.

I spoke to Mayor Kelly regarding her role in this matter. She told me that she did not seek reimbursement from the county to cover the initial month. She explained to me that she understood that SOS would be seeking money to cover the additional time for housing and she offered her support to Ms. Gregory for her efforts.

Ms. Liberatore actually acknowledges in the body of her story that the funds the Mayor used were federal. Whoever crafted the headline can be forgiven for their confusion because the Liberatore story begins with:

The nearly $62,000 the city spent to house the homeless at the Holiday Inn during the pandemic,  which the city hoped would be federally reimbursed, will not be refunded.

Liberatore May 20, 2020

Having been turned down by the Department of Social Services and the Department of health, and having allocated money from the Community Block Grant, no one was seeking reimbursement for the initial month as purported in the Times Union article.

Torturous Confusion

On April 20, 2020, Tara Gaston wrote to the members of the City Council and to Karen Gregory offering two options for getting money from the county to assist in paying for sheltering the homeless at the Holiday Inn. Option #1 was to secure FEMA funding which would cover 75% of the housing costs. Option #2 was to seek discretionary money from County Administrator Spencer Hellwig. This could provide as much as $15,000.00.

Her email to the Council included her assertion that there was a FEMA requirement that SOS would have to first use moneys from fundraising they did during the pandemic to pay for the temporary housing before FEMA money could be used. This was a red herring as the fundraising done by SOS was not subject to this regulation (this will be covered in a later post).

The next day at the April Board of Supervisors meeting Gaston introduced a resolution to authorize the county to apply to FEMA on behalf of Saratoga Springs. The resolution passed unanimously.

Neither Supervisor Gaston nor anyone else from the county government ever contacted the city or SOS seeking additional information as a follow up to that meeting.

So how does one explain this from the Times Union story:

…Gaston said neither she nor her fellow city Supervisor Matthew Veitch were given access to information they needed. They wanted to know who was paying the  Holiday Inn, Shelters or the city. They also asked about a contract between the city and Shelters. She also doesn’t know if Shelters has to pay back the city

“We can’t help if we don’t know that,” she said.

Without knowledge of what is going on, Gaston said, it jeopardized both the reimbursement and the money raised during a Shelters’ fundraiser, which FEMA could have subtracted from its reimbursement

Times Union May 20, 2020

Neither Supervisor Gaston nor Supervisor Veitch contacted the city or SOS following the April 21 meeting when the Board of Supervisors approved applying to FEMA. I contacted the Mayor and asked her to review email correspondence relevant to the FEMA money issue. Contrary to Supervisor Gaston’s allegations the Mayor never received any emails or requests of any kind from Supervisor Gaston or Supervisor Veitch for the information referenced in the TU story.

Even more bizarre is the fact that Supervisor Gaston attends every Saratoga Springs City Council meeting. She is on the agenda and she addresses the Council directly about matters relevant to the county and city. If she had actually wanted this information could she not have used any of a number of these occasions to request the needed information from the Council? If she had there would have at least been a video recording documenting her efforts. There is no such record.

Similarly, Karen Gregory was never contacted by Supervisor Gaston.

Why Should This Be The City’s Problem?

The county has a Department of Social Services, a Department of Health, and a Department of Mental Health. They also run a FEMA funded group that is charged with addressing problems related to COVID19.

No one has argued that the homeless are not particularly threatened by COVID19 or that they do not pose a risk to the wider community. For that matter no one is even arguing that all these people are just from Saratoga Springs. So why has the county not been a proactive force on this issue? Why isn’t someone from the county administration not working directly with SOS to find a solution for this problem? The role of Supervisor Gaston should have been to alert the appropriate authorities in the county to the problem and ask them to resolve it. That should have been the extent of her role . Putting aside the issues of credibility raised in this post, resolving this problem through her makes no sense. She adds an unnecessary layer that only serves to muddy the waters. Someone from the county should have formally written directly to either the city or SOS laying out what they needed in order to apply to FEMA.

Why Is The County Administrative Staff Not Making The FEMA Funding Happen?

Carl Zeilman is the Commissioner of Emergency Services for Saratoga County. He runs the county’s COVID19 response operation. There have been articles in the Saratogian and the Gazette in which Zeilman’s operation has been trumpeted for its efforts to combat the COVID19 epidemic. Where has Mr. Zeilman been in addressing this issue of the homeless?

In addition to his position at the county, Mr. Zeilman is also the chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Party. The following post which included a link to Wendy Liberatore’s article appeared on the County Republican Party’s Facebook page It reads reads as follows:

Mismanagement cost the taxpayers in the city of Saratoga Springs more than $60k. In a time when the city is furloughing it’s employees there is no excuse for this. Why no comment from Karen Gregory or the Mayors office? Because they are directly responsible!Saratoga County Republican Party Website

Saratoga County Republican Committee Facebook Page

As documented above, the allegation that this was paid for by taxes raised in Saratoga Springs is false. It would have been more productive if Mr. Zeilman had used the resources of his office to try to assist in finding a solution to this problem rather than making a partisan attack based on false information.

As for Supervisor Gaston, her decision to, in effect, praise her own efforts while ignoring the failures of the county and denigrating the city are disheartening. Mayor Kelly and Karen Gregory deserve better.

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.