Saratoga Spa charter commission fleshes out May 30 referendum

Updated 5:48 pm, Saturday, January 21, 2017

The city’s Charter Review Commission has decided that a “council manager” form of government will go before voters this spring.

The panel last week voted 14-0 to offer voters a chance to replace the current system of five independent commissioners, each elected and responsible for specific aspects of city government, with the council-manager setup. That would feature an elected city council that works with an appointed city manager who oversees all city departments.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, the commission will discuss the issue, including the role of a mayor under a council-manager government, as well as finance provisions, and the role of the city attorney and recreation commission.

Voters will consider the potential change in a referendum scheduled on May 30. If voters accept the change, the new government would start in 2019. If voters reject the change, the current commission government — a century old — will remain in place.

“When we interviewed city managers from Corning and Batavia, I was impressed with their long-term vision for infrastructure improvements, technology and economic growth,” commission member Beth Wurtmann said in a statement. “A strategic 10-year plan under a skilled city manager is what Saratoga Springs needs to stay abreast with 21st century demands.”

Under the proposed change, an elected council would oversee general administration, policy and budgets, as well as name a city manager responsible for day-to-day administrative operations.

“The city manager is forced to squeeze out the waste and inefficiency or lose his job. In Canandaigua, the city council and mayor told the city manager to keep costs down,” said Bob Turner, commission chairman.

Several members also agreed that a council manager government could reduce city expenses and taxes. “I think the city would save money by hiring one professional city manager instead of five deputy commissioners,” said commission member Rob Kuczynski.

“A council-manager structure would reduce political pressures and in-fighting by having the City Council represent the will of the people and the city manager administer the daily operations of the city,” commission member B.K. Keramati said.

Under the current government, voters elect a mayor and four individual commissioners who each oversee areas including finance, accounts, public safety and public works. They have both legislative and executive authority.

“I was on the City Center Parking Garage Task Force in 2001 and saw the plan fall apart due to jurisdictional and political turf conflicts between commissioners,” said committee member Gordon Boyd. “It is 16 years later and we still have no garage. Now, we are competing with at least 30 other cities nationwide to retain Ayco. I am worried that the five silos of the commission form of government inhibit the ability to act quickly.”

bnearing@timesunion.com518-454-5094@Bnearing10

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