Thomas Jefferson famously supported rewriting the Constitution every 19 years. He said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” What he meant was that a constitution or charter should be designed to address the challenges of the future rather than the past. Before designing a charter for Saratoga Springs for the 21st century, the Charter Review Commission asked ourselves, what challenges face Saratoga Springs in the 21st Century?

For the past 8 months, we have read multiple municipal finance reports including the NY Comptroller’s “New Fiscal Realities Challenge Local Governments” and Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernake’s speech on the Economic Challenges for State and Local Governments. They paint a clear and stark picture of the challenges facing Saratoga Springs.

Federal and state aid to cities is shrinking. Cities can no longer expect Washington or Albany to bail them out. Cities are growing increasingly dependent on sales tax and tourist revenue which can fluctuate significantly with the national economy. We know increased competition from the Rivers Casino in Schenectady and the new Albany Convention Center will likely to cut into the city’s tax revenues. Meeting long term pension liabilities and retiree health-care expenses will become increasingly difficult and Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap limits the city’s ability to raise revenue. Saratogians understand this.

Future infrastructure costs will continue to rise. A 2014 New York State Comptroller report, Growing Cracks in the Foundation, shows that strained finances coupled with rapidly rising costs in construction materials have caused NY cities to fall behind in their efforts to maintain and improve their aging water, sewer, and transportation infrastructure. Our primary drinking water source dates from 1870. Federal mandates for stormwater runoff, safe drinking water, and the prevailing wage act requirements further strain local government finances.

What is the implication of less money and more demands for the City Charter? New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli states that cities need to be “able to shift their emphasis from reacting to short-term or emergency infrastructure needs to being proactive and planning for the future.” While a five member Commission with their own administrative silos and two year terms may have certain advantages, proactive long-term planning is not one of them. Each commissioner is concerned with their own department, be it finance, public safety, or public works.

If the challenges facing city government today are high, Saratogians’ expectations for city government have never been higher. In Saratoga, we want bike paths, parking garages, a waterfront park, solar field, a homeless shelter, a top tier city center, a community farm, a safe and clean downtown, and sports fields. We expect to be able to pay our bills, submit building designs and find information about government services from our smart phones. Since Amazon can deliver anything in 48 hours, we expect our emails answered within 24 hours and cannot fathom why a routine building or sign permit should take more time.

Governing a city in 1915 was simpler– Collect taxes, build roads, provide licenses, and protect the public. Increasing fiscal challenges, rising infrastructure costs, and fierce competition make providing those services and the meeting the higher demands of citizens significantly more difficult. Saratogians want and expect a responsive, proactive, and agile city government. We need a new charter that meets those challenges. To learn more about the Charter Review Committee’s work, see saratogacharter.com. As always, we hope to hear from you via email at saratogaspringscharter@gmail.com.

Bob Turner is chairman of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission. Megan Schachter is a student at Skidmore College.