Debate over Saratoga Springs government gets heated as vote nears

October 05, 2017 04:56 AM

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Saratoga Springs has been down this road before. To change or not to change its commission form of government.  This time around, it's getting heated.

"It's almost like a civil war every five or six years in the city," said Accounts Commissioner John Franck, the senior member of the City Council.

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Fifteen city residents, volunteers appointed by the City Council, were charged with reviewing the current government and making recommendations.

After two years of research, the so-called Charter Review Commission, is proposing a council-manager form with an appointed city manager to handle daily operations, plus six elected councilors and one elected mayor, all serving as legislators.

The current government has four elected commissioners and one elected mayor. All serve as department heads, are part time, and all get equal votes on city matters.

Jeff Altamari, a member of the Charter Review Commission, and an accountant, said Wednesday, "We need to let non-political, highly qualified managers run the daily business, if we do that, there'll be savings for the community."

But current commissioners disagree.

"The fiscal analysis that this charter review commission has sent out is highly inaccurate. This will cost taxpayers money," said Michele Madigan, the city accounts commissioner who presented a $46 million budget this week.

State law says the city has to pay for the commission to mail its findings and recommendations to voters, but the council refused, saying they disagree with the math in their summary which says the new government will save $403,000 a year.

"It's not an absurd number," said Altamari. "But we shouldn't be forced to reconcile our numbers based on some arcane or antiquated form of government."

Accounts Commissioner John Franck says not only will it not save money, it'll cost another $306,000 a year.

Franck even accuses the commission of mail fraud, for placing the city seal on a document that wasn't approved by the city, and he calls it inappropriate for citizens to use their own money to send mail that isn't sanctioned by the city.

"It seems to me like you have one wealthy commission member who is basically trying to buy the election," Franck said Wednesday afternoon.

Robert Turner, the commission's chair, says they paid for the mailing with their own money because they feel strongly about the need to inform voters. "I feel really passionately that it's so important for voters to have the summary and the charter in front of them, to cast an educated vote."  

The 31-page mailing is arriving in city mailboxes this week. The vote is November 7.


Mark Mulholland

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