HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SARATOGA SPRINGS PROPOSED CITY CHARTER This Summary Memorandum is offered by the Charter Review Commission to provide members of the Saratoga Springs community with a brief synopsis of the Proposed City Charter.
Purpose or General Idea
The goals of the Charter are to protect and enhance the health, safety, environment and general welfare of the people; to enable municipal government to provide services and meet the needs of the people efficiently; to allow fair and equitable participation of all persons in the affairs of the City; to provide for transparency, accountability and ethics in governance and civil service; to foster fiscal responsibility; to promote prosperity and diversity; and to address the broad needs of a changing society.
Justification Separation of Powers
The Proposed Charter offers a form of government in which legislative roles are separated from administrative responsibilities. The existing Charter combines these roles in each Commissioner and the Mayor. In the Proposed Charter, policy leadership and fiscal accountability are ultimately given to the elected Mayor and Council. It is anticipated that numerous efficiencies will be identified and implemented. Potential difficulties of Commissioner-headed departments not working effectively together will be eliminated by the unification of administration under the Manager, who will be accountable to the Mayor and Council.
The balanced budget requirement and internal controls are continued from the existing Charter. Financial accountability is enhanced in the Proposed Charter with the addition of regular internal audits. The existing Charter provides for audits conducted by the Finance Department, but that department is not able to independently audit itself. Therefore, an outside contractor will conduct the annual internal audit, and it is anticipated that savings will accrue from that function as well.
The Commission sought to provide for greater participation in city electoral affairs with the proposed expansion of the City Council from the present five Commissioners to seven (six Council members plus the Mayor). As city government grows in size and complexity, many citizens who would be well qualified legislators are unable to make the personal sacrifice to take on the time consuming job of running a city department.
Summary of Provisions Article I. General Provisions
This Article includes title and purpose, city status, powers and duties, and geographic boundaries.
Article II. City Council and Mayor
The Proposed Charter provides for a City Council of six members, elected at large, plus a voting Mayor as presiding officer. The powers of the Mayor include representing the city in intergovernmental relationships, executing any and all contracts approved by the Council, making appointments to land use boards and committees with advice and consent of the Council, chairing the Finance Committee of the Council and others. The Council shall appoint a qualified person as City Manager, the City Attorney and approve the Manager’s appointment of the City Clerk. In its oversight role, the council is authorized to conduct investigations and audits. 2 The Council is authorized to levy taxes, enact ordinances and local laws, license certain occupations, and set penalties for violations.
Article III. City Manager
This Article provides for the appointment, qualifications and compensation of a City Manager to direct and oversee the administrative functions of City government, in keeping with the policies established by the Mayor and Council. The Manager shall serve an indefinite term at the pleasure of the Council, and the Council shall set the Manager’s compensation. The City Manager shall, among other duties, direct and supervise all administrative offices and functions, represent the City in collective bargaining, implement contracts approved by the Council, regularly evaluate employee performance, attend all City Council Meetings, and prepare and submit an annual budget and capital program to the Council for its review and approval. The Manager shall make reports to the Council concerning ongoing operations, fiscal matters, and other affairs of the City, assist in the development of long-term goals, and cooperate with the Council in developing policies and information requested by the Council.
Article IV. Departments, Offices and Agencies
All existing departments, offices and agencies are continued in the Proposed Charter until or unless changed by the City Manager, in consultation with the Council. The two County Supervisors are provided, allowing for staggered four-year terms of office if authorized by state legislation.
Article V. Financial Management
The Proposed Charter continues the present Charter’s structural reforms in budget process, providing that the Manager prepare the City Budget for review and approval by the City Council. Provision is made for public hearings and review by the City Council Finance Committee and by the Council itself by November 30 of each year. The Proposed Charter also provides that the budget must be balanced and that mid-year financial reports be made by the Manager. No expense or liability may be incurred unless the City Council has made an appropriation. The Capital Program shall cover six-years and shall also be subject to Council adoption. The Manager shall prepare and recommend to the council the Annual Capital Budget, similar to provisions of the existing Charter. An Independent Annual Audit is provided for as well as an Internal Audit, a new provision not in the existing charter.
Article VI. Elections and Staggered Terms of Office
The Proposed Charter establishes staggered four-year terms for the City Council, plus a four-year term for the Mayor. Term limits are provided, a maximum of three full elected four-year terms of office for the Mayor and members of the City Council.
Article VII. Tax Districts; Bonding Limits; Contracts; Assessments, Taxes and User Fees
This article continues the establishment of the Inside and Outside Tax Districts. These districts continue the City’s highway maintenance arrangement with New York State that was established prior to 1915 and has continued ever since, to the city’s benefit. The City’s debt limit will remain at 2% of the average full valuation of taxable real estate.
Article VIII. Transition and Severability.
The Proposed Charter formally repeals the existing 2001 Charter and establishes an effective date of January 1, 2020. Election to the new City Council will be at the General Election