The Saratoga Springs mayor's race does not offer an easy choice. Voters must choose
between two able, passionate candidates and their long-running disagreements.
Looking at their positions, however, we believe that incumbent Republican
Mayor Scott Johnson can better lead the city.
One test of a leader is the ability to take the long view and make decisions that are right
if not necessarily popular. Since he took office in 2008, Mr. Johnson, an attorney, has
shown he is willing to do that.
Case in point: a new recreation center for the city. This project was already bonded for
when Mr. Johnson was elected. Critics, including his current Democratic opponent,
Ronald Kim, suggested scrapping the center for a new public safety building. Mr. Kim,
an attorney and public safety commissioner, says Mr. Johnson has his priorities wrong.
But Mr. Johnson notes that the city would still have had to pay for the bonds for years,
potentially losing at least $1 million. Where's the sense? He also appropriately favored
relocating the center to South Side Park, much more accessible for children than the
original choice far from the heart of the city. While he has taken heat from some
neighbors who brought a lawsuit, it was the right move.
Mr. Johnson has shown a willingness to consider opposing views on critical issues like
paid parking, seeking a balance between new revenue and merchants' concerns.
We endorse Mr. Johnson while noting that Mr. Kim is right to push for the new public
safety building. We also urge the mayor, should he be re-elected, to bone up on the
state's Open Meetings Law, which the city violated at least once during his tenure with a
vote in closed session.
If Mr. Johnson has the courage to make tough decisions, he should have the courage to
always make them in public.
Recreation Center Just Makes Sense
published 08/30/2009, The Saratogian
My fellow Saratogians,
There has been much discussion about the construction of a recreation and community center here in Saratoga Springs, especially in tough economic times. When I took office in 2008, I had to decide whether to move forward with this project. I asked myself two questions: Does it make fiscal sense, and will it benefit our community?
To answer the first question, itís important to remember that this issue has been talked about for well over a decade. There were numerous committees appointed, and numerous City Councils have discussed it and agreed on its merits.
The previous City Council, in place prior to my taking office in 2008, had unanimously voted by July 2007 to bond the full cost of the project, borrowing money to ensure its construction. My opponent, in fact, is on the record as saying that he believed the recreation center was a top priority and should be built, specifically because money had already been borrowed to build it.
If the city were to abandon this project ó as my opponent now claims we should ó the taxpayers would lose more than $1.25 million, paid on the borrowed bond funds. If we abandon it now, itís like the burden of paying a mortgage without ever building your house.
I entered office on a pledge to provide common sense leadership, and losing more than $1.25 million, and having nothing to show for it, makes no sense at all. I know I may take a political hit for my decision, and thatís alright. Decisions like these separate those who can provide leadership from those seeking to avoid criticism just to stay in office.
The second question is whether the recreation and community center will benefit Saratoga Springs. The answer is absolutely yes. For the first time, weíll have a year-round facility for recreation and leisure programs, all under one roof. The center is ideally located in town, with easy access by foot, bike and public bus that doesnít depend on parents to drive their children. We will no longer have to travel to different communities and pay rental space for our programs.
The center will improve the quality of life for currently underserved members of our community, including the many seniors, teens and families with young children.
Our state-of-the-art center will also allow us to host athletic tournaments and other programs, in turn stimulating our local economy by bringing visitors and residents alike to our restaurants, shops and hotels.
Additionally, Iím optimistic that we can generate enough revenue from the use of our recreation center to significantly offset operating costs.
The time is now for all of us to embrace this community need. The bonding was long ago put in place, more than three years ago, and since then weíve all been paying taxes on it. Our recreation and community center will be used and enjoyed by all Saratogians for generations to come. It just makes common sense.
Scott Johnson is mayor of Saratoga Springs.
We Can Work Together to Face New Challenges
published 02/01/2009, The Saratogian
My fellow Saratogians,
It was good to see some of you at the 2009 State of the City address I delivered last Sunday. Itís now posted on the city Web site, at www.saratoga-springs.org, for public access.
As stated during the address, the tumultuous events of last year will hardly be missed. In these challenging times, the need for optimism and renewed attitude is perhaps unparalleled in recent history. I never lose sight of those among us that face extreme challenges, every day, just to make ends meet.
Fiscal conservatism must prevail, while we continue to enhance our quality of life as a vibrant and compassionate community. Iím proud the City Council worked together to overcome repeated fiscal challenges from the state and national economy. We held the line on taxes, with no increase. As Iíve often stated, the VLT revenue isnít guaranteed and is subject to risk yearly. Facing the loss of substantial VLT monies, many worthwhile capital projects, understandably, had to be deferred.
The decision to defer a project canít be viewed in a vacuum. The council has a fiduciary obligation to you, the public, to avoid wasteful spending of your hard-earned tax dollars. A prime example is the indoor recreation center. As Iíve often stated, this entire project, including all construction, was bonded years ago. We have since been paying all taxes involved. Opponents claim that building it now will cost the taxpayers more. One thing is certain: to now abandon the project will cost at least $1 million taxpayers can never recoup. To waste such money is fiscal irresponsibility.
The present legal challenge to the rec center, brought by a small group of immediate neighbors, doesnít negate the fiscal sense in proceeding with the project. Anyone can file a lawsuit. It will be up to the court to ultimately decide the merits. Iím confident weíre on sound legal footing and will prevail. The wishes of a few shouldnít outweigh the overwhelming community benefit.
Capital projects arenít the only challenges. As mayor, the charter places collective bargaining of city union contracts in my hands, presently six of the seven contracts. Given that labor costs are $30 million per year, of our $36 million current budget, itís better to get it right than rush to resolution.
Historically, new contracts arenít reached for months beyond expiration, with the last police contract 10 months and the fire contract almost one year beyond their respective expiration dates. Every reasonable effort is being taken to advance negotiations in good faith, with opportunity for input from the city commissioners.
Additionally, weíre working toward solving downtown parking and the public safety building needs. We just resolved the 2007 DEC investigation with business sense, while bringing significant environmental benefits back into the city. Much has happened in this first year.
By continuing to demand civility and professionalism, the council can meet your expectations. I will do my part. Acting responsibly and cooperatively, we can chart a better course for the public good.
Scott Johnson is mayor of the city of Saratoga Springs.
2009 State of the City Address, by Mayor Scott T. Johnson
delivered January 25, 2009
To my fellow Saratogians here today, welcome and thank you for your continued interest in City affairs, displayed by your presence today as well as your involvement throughout the community. Only by working together can we continue toward what is better for our City.
A welcome and thank you also goes out to my fellow City Council members, Commissioner John Franck, Commissioner Kenneth Ivins, Commissioner Skip Scirocco and Commissioner Ronald Kim. Regardless of what side of the political arena we are on or how we stand on any given issue, it has been without doubt a more civil and professional Council during our administration. If we continue with civility and professionalism, we can live up to the demands and expectations of all Saratogians. We should be able to agree to disagree, at times, and still move on to do the Cityís business.
I also welcome Saratoga County Supervisors Joanne Yepsen and Matthew Veitch and recognize their efforts to improve City and County relations.
To other elected officials here today, as well as all former members of our City Council, welcome and thank you for attending. As always, your continued dedication and public service to our community is both recognized and appreciated.
On a personal note, I thank my family, my wife Julie and son Conor, for their understanding and tolerance of the many hours spent apart while I tend to City business. Your love, support and assistance remains immeasurable. To my mother Jane, I continue to rely upon and appreciate the values you generously passed on to your children.
Lastly, as in the past, please join me in a moment of silence for remembrance and gratitude to those of our families, friends and fellow Saratogians who are no longer with us, and without whose contributions and influence we would not be who we are today, both personally and as a community.
Please join me now as we consider the State of our City.
By design, the State of the City address examines where we have been within the past year as well as where we are now heading. Unquestionably, 2008 presented many unforeseen and unpredictable economic challenges, the depth of which certainly remains beyond the horizon. Many financial analysts are comparing the current economic downturn to that not seen since the Great Depression. As a destination and resort community, we are perhaps more resilient, but clearly not immune, than other communities to precipitous economic downturns. We will be better able to weather the economic storm than others but we must brace ourselves for uncertainty in 2009 and perhaps thereafter. The charge to our City Council is obvious: Fiscal conservatism, better management and improved efficiency. If nothing else, a tax and spend policy has no place in our current approach.
Tempered against the economic challenges remains a dedicated and talented community. In these challenging times, the need for optimism, renewed attitude and sense of purpose is perhaps unparalleled in recent history. Certainly, there are and will be both good days and tough days, full of challenges as a community, but through it all we must take inspiration from the greatness thatís Saratoga at its core. These challenging times dictate that we renew our purpose as a community, recognize our priorities and work together for the common good.
Above all, we must focus on what can unite us rather than what can politically divide us. At times, negativity for political or personal gain is advanced by a minority in our community. The majority of our community must be vigilant to reject these efforts, stay the course and remain positive. If nothing else was learned from the last election, the future success for Saratoga is dependent on demanding from City government the civility, dedication and common sense you use in your everyday lives.
Despite the financial crisis facing our Nation and State, which strains on our City, the state of our City remains strong and committed as ever to preserve and enhance the quality of life we enjoy. We have never cowered from the challenge and remain dedicated to what makes us proud to be Saratogians. Our Cityís greatest asset continues to be the generosity and compassion of our people.
Letís look at the events of 2008.
The tumultuous events of 2008 will hardly be missed. As a nation, there are signs that we are perhaps facing economic challenges not seen for generations. As a State, New York continues in downward spiral into an ever increasing deficit, while continuing to shift the tax burden onto our local backs. With diminishing revenues from the State, such as VLT revenue, we face this difficult ordeal now and well into an uncertain future. In these demanding times, working together toward solutions isnít a recommendation, itís a requirement.
Our benchmark must continue to be fiscal conservatism, while we continue to enhance our quality of life as a vibrant and compassionate community. Government must become more productive, efficient and answer to the same standards that govern those in private business. As your elected officials, we must at times make tough and perhaps unpopular decisions to ensure fiscal responsibility. The choices may not be easy, but are necessary as part and parcel of our charge as elected officials. Regardless of the issue, we as a Council, must never lose sight of those among us that face extreme challenges, every day, just to make end meets.
Our City is facing many fiscal challenges that require us to provide non-traditional, creative and affordable solutions. The days of simply bonding for infrastructure or other capital needs is unacceptable to the present day taxpayer, who already feels overtaxed. We need to continue to prioritize the multitude of capital needs facing our City. As your Council, we have a fiduciary obligation to you, the public, to avoid wasteful spending of your hard earned tax dollars. Part of the solution is we must all, as a united community, continue to work toward promoting our year round economy and expanding our tax base, to then lessen the burden on the average taxpayer.
The meaningful expansion of our year round economy is best seen in the present expansion planned for the City Center. Since becoming Mayor, I have attended the City Center Authority meetings where the expansion of the City Center went beyond vision to become a reality. The expansion of what already brings much convention business, with increased improvement of our local economy and tax revenues, will allow us to remain competitive in the convention and tourism business. The expansion is financed through State grants and hotel tax paid by visitors to our City, with no tax increase to Saratogians. When the plan for expansion soon unfolds to the public, the support and enthusiasm for this project will surely follow. The planís focus is the future of Saratoga.
Other regional developments are likely to improve our year round economy and expand our tax base. Most notably, Advanced Micro Devices, otherwise known as AMD, remains committed, despite the economy, to development of a high technology park which will surely produce ripple effects throughout the County and beyond. The creation of quality, well-paying jobs translates into an improved business base, increased disposable income for consumption and generation of local tax revenue. With the current economic downturn, the timing of AMD could not be better for our region. As a destination resort and desirous place to live, Saratoga will clearly reap many benefits.
Last year also saw the resolution of the racing franchise selection, to the obvious relief of all Saratogians. With the award going to New York Racing Association, we can now focus on preservation and quality improvements to the Saratoga experience trackside. As part of the franchise selection, two crucial issues were resolved in our favor. First, despite the ownership of the track reverting to New York State, our entitlement to property taxes has been preserved. Second, the franchise legislation established a Local Advisory Board to oversee all future changes planned for Saratoga Race Course. As such, this is the Cityís first and greatest opportunity to advocate local business and preservationist issues for all future proposed changes, both architecturally and operationally. This oversight was a result of intense lobbying during the franchise selection by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation and the Concerned Citizens for Racing, both of whom I have recognized by appointments to the Advisory Board. As a City, we should look forward to continuing the partnership between the City and NYRA, being good neighbors and mutually advancing the preservation and improvement of our treasure.
The year 2008 also saw significant movement toward developing a realistic and affordable solution for Downtown parking and Public Safety Building needs. Last Fall, the Council agreed to jointly issue a request for proposals to address both needs. Notably, this was the first jointly sponsored effort by the City Council on this issue and represents the necessary cooperative effort of working towards a common goal. With viable bids to currently choose from, this is the first realistic opportunity for the City to deliver needed services, while not overburdening the taxpayer. In order to advance this project, the City must come to terms with and accept paid parking as the only realistic source of revenue to pay for the services. The Council has already embraced the concept, but not the details, of paid parking as the method of financing needed. Presently there remains much misunderstanding and inaccurate assumptions as to what would constitute paid parking in the City. Paid parking does not mean paid parking throughout the City. It does, however, mean a comprehensive approach in solving the public need.
In the end, a balance must be struck between the economic necessity to generate revenue and the concerns of Downtown businesses and their patrons. Education and communication remain the key toward dispelling these misconceptions and concerns. Through cooperative effort, a reasonable compromise can always be reached to satisfy all concerns. For the first time, the City has a viable project and affordable means of financing. Economic realities dictate the City must utilize and accept such innovative methods of financing rather than further burdening the taxpayer.
Another project to advance in 2008 was the Indoor Recreation Center. As Iíve often stated, this entire project, including the development and all construction, was bonded years ago by the prior administration. Since then, we have all been paying taxes for it. Opponents use propaganda that building it now will cost the taxpayer more. The present legal challenge to the project is brought by a small group of immediate neighbors and does not, I believe, represent community opinion. While ultimately the court will decide the merits of the challenge, the City should prevail and move on to better serving our youth. Practically from day one of my administration, I have been advocating the location of the Recreation Center to the Southside Recreation Field. In fact, as long ago as last yearís State of the City address, I indicated that intention. This current location is centrally located within the City, accessible by pedestrians, bicyclists, City bus riders and motorists. Undoubtedly, this location is more convenient for independent access by our youth, without regard or necessity for parental transportation. Having already paid the cost of construction, the time to put the shovel in the ground is overdue. To now abandon the project would make one thing certain: You the taxpayers will lose at least one million dollars that can never been recouped. Fiscal conservatism and accountability to all taxpayers prohibits this projectís abandonment, as wasteful and fiscally irresponsible. Our City, with its proud reputation, stature and dedication to our youth and their future, can now provide a facility worthy of our community. As a community, we must remain committed to our youth and, in turn, our future.
Planning for the future can also be found in recent changes at Fasig Tipton and its plans to improve, revitalize and transform our annual yearling sales as perhaps the premier sales meet in the nation. The local benefit of such investment and dedication to further elevate Saratoga as the best in racing is without question. Any raising of the bar produces greater reputation, attracts more visitors and generates increased revenue to the City. As a City, we must welcome these new owners of a familiar and valued ally.
Other capital projects advanced in 2008 include the redevelopment and improvement of the South Broadway entrance corridor. As the main entrance to our City, the improvements were long overdue and now encourage further improvements to roadside businesses, consistent with Saratogaís reputation. The Department of Public Works worked hand in hand with the New York State Department of Transportation to produce a more attractive gateway.
Open space initiatives did not take a back seat in 2008. Advancement of the Waterfront Park development was championed by my office, to finally deliver to the public some meaningful use of property earlier purchased but then neglected. Despite being purchased 3 years ago for two million dollars with Open Space Bond money, it had remained largely closed to the public. As such, it is another prime but unacceptable example of paying taxes on property without delivering any meaningful use. In conjunction with a committee, plans were advanced in 2008 for development in stages, over two years, to produce a multi-use, beautiful Waterfront Park. The current recession later came and, understandably, resulted in deferral of the project to later years under a better economy. The design and analysis to date has been preserved for later consideration and implementation. While fiscal conservatism dictates delay in the project, the responsibility to the public to provide meaningful use of open space parcels remains.
Other open space initiatives currently advancing include the Geyser Road Trail, recently awarded grant funding toward development. Spring Run Trail is shovel ready and we are applying for grant money, to finally deliver this in-town trail network to the public in the most cost effective manner.
On another open space project, purchased back in 2006, we reached out to our neighbors, the Village of Ballston Spa and the Town of Milton, in cooperative fashion to assist us in the development of what is known as the Corcoran property on Route 50. This approximate 47 acre parcel was purchased with open space bond money but remained in a wooded and largely inaccessible condition. The initiative is to develop trails through the property that would compliment the adjoining Woods Hollow Nature Preserve, a 75 acre parcel owned by the Village of Ballston Spa that had already developed a trail network. The concept was for us to apply for grant money from New York State for the development of our trails, in collaboration and consistent with the pre-existing trails in the adjoining preserve. The cooperation of our neighbors was obtained and we are now waiting decision on our grant application. As I have often stated, to apply for such grant money, at times readily available, is not just an option but a responsibility.
By simply reaching out to our neighbors, we are able to transform our 47 acre parcel into a trail system approximating 125 acres, to mutually benefit residents of both municipalities. As an aside, when I approached the Mayor of Ballston Spa to discuss this proposition, I was informed it was the first meeting between our Mayors in at least 12 years. We share a border and obviously have much in common. As we move forward, we must continue to reach out to our neighbors and seek solutions that mutually benefit our residents and, in turn, produce cost savings on services.
Land conservation issues and quality of life mandates arenít limited only to open space issues. As stated in my first State of the City address, our City zoning ordinance is a result of a history of piecemeal amendments, presenting many difficult and at times unworkable use by applicants to the land use boards and the boards themselves, specifically the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Design Review Commission. Late last year we began a comprehensive review of the zoning ordinance to determine its workability, the need for revision and perhaps replacement. This is the first review undertaken in decades in such a comprehensive manner, in conjunction with our Planning Department and professional counsel. The process is both challenging and extensive but we have at least begun. Following the in-house and professional review, any recommendation for revision or replacement will be assisted by the appropriate process of public hearings and input. Addressing zoning deficiencies is not a promotion of more development. Rather, consistency and clear standards promote better results and fairness to everyone involved in the process.
Improvements to our Zoning Ordinance could also promote and incorporate sustainability standards, to assist our land use boards in their evaluations and, ultimately, benefit the entire community. In 2008, we also saw efforts undertaken to further promote sustainability as a long term goal. As a community, we must continue to balance sustainability with affordability, to be progressive yet realistic.
Under the Mayorís Department, more specifically the Building Department, in 2008 we began and now continue with significant improvements toward improved efficiency and modernization, with a goal toward greater productivity and reduction in processing time. With a good and dedicated staff, we will continue to improve to better serve the community.
Another issue to surface last year was that of affordable housing. I am pleased to report that we helped accomplish the biggest City initiative in affordable housing in over forty years by lending support and financial guarantees to the Saratoga Affordable Housing Group Inc. Upon taking office, I learned of the groupís goal to acquire 28 units of housing existing on Allen Drive for conversion to affordable housing. By lending the support of the City to the cause, the group was able to accomplish their initiative. Notably, through negotiation, the City was able to preserve the property on the City tax rolls to benefit our taxpayers. The program has been a success to date and has encouraged planned expansion by development of additional housing, currently under consideration. The group has also worked in direct conjunction and collaboration with the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority, long a provider of housing to those more disadvantaged in our community. While we applaud the efforts and success to date of the Saratoga Affordable Housing Group, we must as a community, continue to work toward a change of perception to increase the willingness of neighborhoods to keep an open mind and accept affordable housing in their backyard. As the Allen Drive initiative demonstrates, affordable housing is not the ruination of your neighborhood. As stated on prior occasions, the unfortunate truth is that many of our neighborhoods are still unwilling to have affordable housing nearby. Overall, that still remains the largest obstacle to development of more affordable housing throughout our City.
Current financial demands go beyond capital projects. As your Mayor, the City Charter places a responsibility for collective bargaining of City union contracts in my hands, presently totaling six of the seven contracts in existence. Given that labor costs are about 30 million dollars per year, of our approximate 36 million dollar annual budget, itís better to get it right than rush to resolution. Across the Country, economic necessities have affected and impaired the difficult balance between wage fairness and what Cities can afford. The realities of the economy influence both sides of the equation. There has been opportunity and invitation for input from the City Commissioners. At this stage, every reasonable effort is being undertaken to advance negotiations in good faith. Ground rules and agreements to not discuss ongoing negotiations, as well as the necessity to preserve confidentiality during negotiations, preclude further details at this time. Sometimes it takes a bit longer to reach a better solution that serves the long term needs of our City. Impatience doesnít serve the public.
Also surfacing in 2008 was the uncertainty of annually receiving Video Lottery Terminal revenue from the State. This issue took center stage as the Council was in the midst of finalizing the 2009 budget. The Governor, without warning, then announced his proposal for a 50% reduction in VLT revenue for 2009. Putting all politics aside, if nothing else is now certain, we cannot continue to expect and rely upon this revenue to fund our budget. The VLT loss not only impacted our process in arriving at a 2009 budget but also delayed collective bargaining negotiations due to the added uncertainty of funds available for future contracts. Given that the VLT revenue is presently 10% of our general operating budget, the loss of this stream of revenue, in any respect, has and will continue to adversely affect our fiscal stability. To the credit of the City Council, we joined forces and lobbied in Albany for restoration of our funding. That, of course, was a prime example of bipartisanship and working together for the common good. We simply argued for fairness and parity of treatment among all VLT host communities of which only one City downstate, Yonkers, was not facing reductions.
As New Yorkers, we can all understand and appreciate the need to address the looming deficit in the New York State budget. But the cuts should not be done ad hoc or unfairly. To date, the State is lacking a comprehensive and long range analysis and, in the end, these cuts will only adversely effect and unduly burden local government by simply shifting, but not reducing, the tax burden. Unquestionably, all VLT host municipalities have increased demands on infrastructure, police and emergency medical services. It is also indisputable that we, as a City, provide a tremendous amount of revenue directly to New York State, in 2008 alone exceeding 100 million dollars, as the Stateís share of local VLT profits. In return, we continue to demand and lobby for our fair and rightful share, which approximates less than 4% of what is sent to the State. We should not lose our share of VLT revenue due to the inability and inefficiency of New York State to balance its own budget. We must also continue to question the wisdom and fairness of reducing our revenue, and in fact penalizing what is a viable and increasing revenue source for the State. Therefore, today, I reiterate our message for Governor Patterson and our State legislature: donít bite the hand that feeds you.
In spite of the unexpected economic downturn in late 2008 and the last minute loss of VLT revenue, I commend my fellow Council members in working together to produce a 0% tax increase for 2009. The unanimous vote approving the 2009 budget is a fine example of the give and take involved, compromises reached and putting aside differences to deliver what the people want in time of need. The prior administrationís tax increase of 8.65% for 2008 was simply unacceptable to most Saratogians. All across Saratoga there are families that have grave concerns over their personal financial stability and rely upon us, as their elected officials, to do whatever is within our means to financially protect our City. Therefore, we as your Council are charged with the responsibility to continue to explore and develop greater productivity and efficiency within government, to find new ways to decrease the cost of government, and to develop additional sources of revenue to pay for City services. As an example, to answer the demand for Public Safety improvements and downtown parking needs, the expense is too great to simply bond and pass the increased burden on to the taxpayer. As controversial as some form of paid parking may be to some in our community, this revenue source is the only realistic and effective means by which to deliver these services long demanded.
We must also keep in mind that this yearís budget included several transfers from reserve funds and taking from contingency funds, which is essentially borrowing from a rainy day fund. As we move into next yearís budget, we must be prudent and cautious to not overly deplete necessary reserves. We must continue to exercise fiscal restraint and reduce governmental spending, to control what can be controlled and to, as we all do, live within our means.
Many issues have been touched upon during this address today. Time restrictions obviously prevent reference or discussion of everywhere we have been and where we are now going. As an example, the issue of emergency response east of the Northway is deferred beyond 2009 resolution, due to economic restraints, but is certainly not forgotten. In this address, I have attempted to highlight some of the more topical issues facing our City. Moreover, I have stressed, because I believe in, the strong and dedicated commitment so prevalent throughout our City, to advance the quality of our lives and spirit unique to Saratoga. We, as a City and its Council, must rededicate ourselves to these ideals as we face challenges at our doorstep. As with the old saying that a problem is nothing more than an opportunity for improvement, so too these challenges are opportunities to explore new solutions, encourage innovation and confirm that working together is our only viable option.
From the historic inauguration this week of our President Barack Obama, certain values and principles have been reaffirmed as one nation and a united people. Let us not lose sight of the inspiration to be gained and lessons learned. While the power of the individual is not to be understated, the power of a united community is unsurpassed. And as the Presidential election clearly demonstrated, America remains the land of opportunity for all of us and, more importantly, our children. However, with that opportunity comes responsibility, referred to by President Obama as a New Era of Responsibility. In his inauguration, President Obama stated, in part:
ďWhat is required of us now is a new era of responsibility Ė a recognition,
on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.Ē
In my last State of the City address, I quoted from John F. Kennedy, whose words continue to stand the test of time and bear repeating today as so aptly defining our charge. He said:
ďSo let us begin anew Ė remembering on both sides that civility is
not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let
us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. Let
both sides explore what problems unite us, instead of belaboring
these problems which divide us.Ē
Also, in my last State of the City address, I asked the City and Council for a new era, an Era of Cooperation. I believe we have taken real steps toward achieving this goal, certainly a better path than in the past. But work still remains.
Responsibility. Cooperation. Combined, these goals are indisputable in defining a better society, a better Saratoga. Cooperation remains the cornerstone in any successful venture, whether business or government. We must rededicate ourselves to join together for what should always be paramount in serving our City: To be a City for ALL Saratogians, by doing the right thing simply because itís the right thing to do. By working together, we can chart the course and help create our own destiny.
When we are challenged and faced with adversity, we will rise to that challenge. As Saratogians, we have before and can again.
This year I reiterate, to my fellow City Council members, to our City and its people, this is our charge.
Thank you all for attending today and for your commitment to our City. God Bless America, the City of Saratoga Springs and all Saratogians.
Interview/Article in "SARATOGA WINTER" Magazine, 2008-2009 Edition
Please click on the links below to read the complete article.
Saratoga Winter Magazine 1 of 6.pdf
Saratoga Winter Magazine 2 of 6.pdf
Saratoga Winter Magazine 3 of 6.pdf
Saratoga Winter Magazine 4 of 6.pdf
Saratoga Winter Magazine 5 of 6.pdf
Saratoga Winter Magazine 6 of 6.pdf
Mayor Explains His Priorities
published 09/12/2008, The Saratogian
When I became your Mayor, I knew there'd be times when issues are distorted by others, unfortunately for political gain and not public service. So it is with my positions on a Public Safety building, waterfront park, indoor recreation center and proposed Capital Program for 2009-2014.
The waterfront park and recreation center are not choices of recreation over public safety.
I'd like to set the record straight, end the distortion and have you, the public, realize that I remain determined to simply do what is best for all of us. Fiscal restraint is still paramount but we must continue to improve our quality of life. Affordability, a comprehensive solution and timing must go hand-in-hand for every project we undertake.
Many taxpayers feel overburdened and need convincing on future increases. Therefore, I already proposed that the Finance Commissioner reduce my share of 2009 operational costs by over $100,000 from that budgeted for 2008.
Fiscal conservatism dictated the 2009 recommendations of the Capital Program Committee, consisting of ten members set by City Charter and not political appointment. The Committee pared 32 requests, totaling $22,381,000, down to 22 items, totaling $5,141,000. This is the lowest since 2003, with only $3,841,000 to be bonded in 2009. Notably, the Public Safety Building for $9,700,000 was deleted.
Most important, the exclusion of the Public Safety building shouldn't be viewed as a determination that we don't need to improve current conditions. Rather, a majority of the committee felt that the present proposal lacks City Council approval, ignores the enormous value of the proposed site and is a piecemeal approach to the project.
The waterfront park isn't a choice of recreation over public safety. This property was purchased 2-1/2 years ago for $2,000,000, with Open Space Bond money. It remains closed to the public to date. We've been paying taxes on the property without any meaningful use accomplished.
The waterfront park shows it's unfair to promise and bond a project and then fail to deliver. Same with the recreation center, bonded since 2006 and yet to see a shovel in the ground. The city must now fulfill these promises, improve our quality of life and give us something to show for our money.
Naysayers coin the waterfront park as "expensive beach" and beyond affordability. However, 2009 construction costs, based on an average $300,000 to $400,000 home assessment, would increase taxes only $3.30 to $4.40 per year, per household.
In conclusion, I haven't overlooked my responsibilities to our hardworking taxpayers. For months now, I've been working on a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a more comprehensive, affordable solution for our city's public safety and parking needs, while also generating tax revenue to reduce future costs.
Sometimes it takes a bit longer to reach a better solution that serves the long-term needs of our city. Impatience doesn't serve the public.
Scott Johnson is mayor of Saratoga Springs.
Interview/Article in "SUCCESS" Magazine, August 2008
Success Magazine Article.pdf
Please click on the link to read the complete article:
Success Magazine Article.pdf
THE SARATOGIANíS QUESTIONNAIRE TO SCOTT JOHNSON
(Answers limited to 100 words) Published October 30, 2007
- What is the single biggest priority for city government in the next two years?
My top priority is restoring civility and leadership to the City Council. I will work to unite, not divide, our community and reach cooperative solutions to the challenges facing us. The Mayor has failed to build consensus on a number of key priorities. She has failed to purchase any open space acreage, she has failed to apply for $1 million in available County open space grant funds, she has failed to pass a capital budget on time, she has failed to create any parking spaces Downtown and she proposed a disastrous plan to radically alter the design of Broadway.
- One of the mayorís exclusive powers is the appointment of members to the land use boards, which have enormous say over development in the city. Describe the philosophies relating to development you would seek/have sought from your appointees?
My appointees would share my philosophy that development be carefully managed to strike a balance between conservation of our City in the Country and growth needed to sustain our economy. Controlled growth is essential to our continued vitality and healthy economy, but that growth must be tempered by vigilant preservation of what aesthetically and architecturally makes Saratoga so special. I would also assist the Boards by ensuring the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance were up to date. Although the Mayorís Comprehensive Plan Committee has met for many months, she has failed to bring any proposed changes forward for Council consideration.
- How would you assess the current operation of the recreation department? Should the city build an indoor recreation center?
The hardworking people of the Recreation Department have done a terrific job with the available resources. They have been ill served by the Mayor, who virtually ignored the need for a facility during her first year in office. She then compounded her mistake by increasing the cost of the center by millions of dollars with little explanation to the public. Now that alternative sites are at issue, the Mayor has shown she cannot maintain the needed consensus on the projectís location. I will provide the common sense leadership needed to make this project a reality.
- Should the city draw drinking water from Saratoga Lake? Should the city participate in the Saratoga County water project?
The debate is not about the City project versus the County project. The question now is whether itís fiscally responsible for the City to move forward. The Mayorís capital budget proposes $14 million in debt for the Lake system, when we are faced with multiple other capital needs, such as a new public safety building. We must prioritize our capital needs. We cannot afford everything at once. Now that the Planning Board has acknowledged we will have ample water for many years to come, we need to step back and take a hard look at the projectís financial feasibility.
- Should the city build a new public safety facility? How much should the city spend and how should the city pay for it?
Most residents agree a new facility is long overdue. The question is how to best reduce the cost of construction and operation. The Council has favored construction through public bid, which adds to construction costs, rather than more innovative approaches such as lease-buy back or construction management. Such solutions eliminate or significantly reduce our long term bonding debt for taxpayers. Funding must be based on creating new sources of revenue, to control taxes. The Mayor mistakenly relies on precarious VLT money to fund this facility, and has failed to build consensus on the Council to move forward.
- How should Saratoga Springs move forward in providing more affordable housing?
Affordable housing is a legitimate community goal. Yet nobody appears willing to have it in their backyard, as witnessed by neighborhood oppositions in the past. Although advocated by the Mayor, mandatory inclusionary zoning and rent controls have been shown elsewhere to be unsuccessful and increase the administrative costs of government. Mayor Keehn has failed to deliver on her campaign pledge to address the need for affordable housing. When elected, I will work to build the necessary consensus among the City, neighboring municipalities, the County and State to jointly solve what has become a regional problem extending beyond our city boundaries.
- How can the city reduce operating costs?
Taxpayers are facing ever increasing tax burdens that many cannot afford. Mayor Keehn voted to double our
City's debt without bringing the vote to a public referendum. Her proposed 2008 capital budget would add tens of millions of dollars to our long term debt, and send taxes soaring. We need to bring common sense and fiscal sanity to our budget process. We cannot continue to overburden the hardworking men and women in our community with ever increasing taxes and debt. I will fight for lower taxes and make sure any vote on increased spending is done with full public input.
- What should be done in the next round of contract negotiations with city employees to control costs?
Our City budget is comprised largely of labor costs, many of which are fairly fixed by pre-existing collective bargaining agreements. The dedicated men and women of our City workforce are very aware of the ever increasing costs of health care. They understand the difficulty of fully funding employee health care through tax dollars alone. Efforts to ensure a more equitable sharing of these costs have been and should continue to be a part of all contract negotiations.
- Why are you the best candidate to serve Saratoga Springs as mayor?
I'm here to offer a fresh approach, to meet what true Saratogians demand and deserve from our elected officials. As practically a lifelong resident, I offer the unique perspective of having lived our past, understanding our present and offering a positive vision for our future. I pledge to bring common sense leadership to the Mayorís office, to unite the community rather than divide. As an ever changing community, we must accept and embrace what good the future brings, while preserving our proud past and respecting those who made it happen. I pledge to represent ALL