The commission approved its fiscal analysis last week, but at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting some commissioners spoke out against the analysis, saying it failed to provide key details.
The updated financial analysis will be sent to voters before the referendum, officials said. The proposed charter city residents will vote on in November would switch Saratoga Springs from a commission form of government to a council-manager form of government, meaning a city manager would have to be hired.
“We have been talking about the financial impact of the charter for several months now. We originally had a longer and far more detailed version of that and we thought that perhaps we should be shorter and more concise and only talk about the positions that were specifically outlined in the charter. We’re adding a city manager and we’re getting rid of the five deputy commissioners and we are ending health care benefits for commissioners,” commission Chairman Bob Turner said. “We’re also ending lifetime health care coverage for city council members who serve 10 years or more. What we heard from the city council [last week] was they wanted some more details on the specifics about what we thought the management structure would look like, about what it would cost for an independent audit as well as whether or not other management structure would be there.”
Initially, the financial statement was a one-page document. Now, voters will receive a seven-page financial disclosure summary explaining the estimated future cost savings the city would receive under the council-manager form of government.
The total estimated future annual savings based on the new charter and city manager actions would be $403,000.
In the document it says, “Estimated future annual savings reflects an approximate annual savings rate once the transition period is completed and the council-manager government is fully functioning and engaged.”
“Jeff Altamari did an incredible amount of research over the last two weeks looking at 20-25 cities with 30,000 people or larger from four different states about what their management structure was. We feel really good about the estimates that are in there,” said Turner. “We think they are very realistic and while in the past you’ve needed to have five commissioners and five deputy commissioners to run the five departments. We think we can do better. We think we can do it more cheaply and we can do it more efficiently and we think going for it for Saratoga Springs, that’s what would be best and that’s reflected in those financial estimates.”
Some commissioners mentioned they had issues with what the analysis included — or failed to include — about transition costs, the cost of an internal auditor and the fact city managers are able to keep deputies at their pleasure as written in the proposed charter.
This new fiscal analysis explains the transition costs as the most challenging aspect since nobody the Charter Review Commission spoke to had ever gone through a transition from the commission form of government to the council-manager format. The analysis provides several points for voters to note in approximating transition costs.
The Charter Review Commission sees the impact of the internal auditor as a cost neutral.
“[Altamari’s] estimate for an audit is $75,000. Every audit he said he has ever done that size is going to pay for itself several times over. We just assume it was revenue neutral that it would 75,000 worth of savings,” said Turner. “I think that’s very conservative. Any large enterprise that’s $50 million or more is going to have to have an independent auditor who comes and looks at specific provisions.”
The updated fiscal analysis assumes the city manager, who would earn $194,000 — that figure includes a $125,000 annual salary and the value of standard city-rate benefits — would hire an assistant city manager for a salary and benefits package of $140,000.
Turner defended the estimated salary of the city manager.
“I spoke to Bob McEvoy at Rockefeller College who is a former city manager and I asked what kind of city manager we could get for the estimate that’s in our financial estimate, and he said [we’ll] be getting the cream of the crop at that rate,” said Turner. “It’s worth noting that every single city manager that we’ve interviewed makes significantly less than the estimate that we provide.”
According to the document, the deputies will serve at the pleasure of the City Manager during the transition period, but they are no longer deputies because, by definition, their positions have been eliminated by the repeal language in the proposed charter. It says, if there are no commissioners, there can be no deputy commissioners.
The analysis calls for an estimated $36,000 of yearly savings for discontinued post-retirement care, an addition of $140,000 for a full-time city attorney’s salary and benefits, an elimination of $101,000 for a part-time city attorney’s salary and benefits and $155,000 through efficiency through attrition — which means two employees will retire but will not be replaced in the future.
The commission will send out materials to voters for the charter referendum, which is set for Nov. 7.
“Charter Review Commissions are required by New York Municipal Home Rule Law to conduct a public education campaign for voters. We are required to mail them the information on the charter, on a summary of the provisions and a financial impact statement,” said Turner. “What we are sending represents those things.”
To view the financial statement, visit http://www.saratoga-springs.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/7121