September 27, 2017

By LUCAS WILLARD •

The estimated financial savings of a proposed city charter change in Saratoga Springs have been disputed between supporters and opponents. This week, the city’s Charter Review Commission plans to approve and release more details on the document.

Last week, the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission released a financial snapshot of the proposed city charter that will go before voters on Election Day.

The document, if approved, would transition Saratoga Springs from its current commission-style form of government, where five city department heads also serve as city legislators, to a more common council-manager form that would involve a seven-member city council including the mayor, and a full-time city manager.

The financial summary said the new form would mean $391,000 in savings, attributed mainly to the removal of the current system’s deputy commissioners.

But many remain skeptical of the cost savings, including Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, who spoke at last Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“Am I missing something? Does anybody outside the planet Mars really believe that one person is going to be able to do all this work?”

Franck took issue with the elimination of the deputy commissioners and asked: if the deputies are eliminated, who is going to do the work to run city government? He threatened to block the funding to send information about the charter change to the public.

“If they cannot do this in a rational and fair manner, and not have material misrepentations in it, then I’m not going to OK it,” said Franck.

Charter Review Commission chair Bob Turner said by state law, the city council cannot prevent the commission from informing the public.

“And one of the key provisions there is that the city council does not get to decide what does or does not go out. Otherwise we wouldn’t be an independent provision,” said Turner.

The Commission is planning to approve a document to be sent to homes Thursday night. Turner said the document, which is several pages long, is not a political mailer.

“It will include the summary of the provision and the estimated financial savings. It is going to look like the sort of document that you would get from your retirement fund or if you did a home mortgage. It is long, it is dense. It is not a political mailer by any means,” said Turner.

The documents will include a more detailed financial review.

Commission member Jeff Altamari, who touts his experience working for a Fortune 500 company, says the new review, which includes transition costs, unlike the previous document, would save taxpayers about $403,000 over the current system. He stands behind the change in structure.

“I think people will realize that, yes, you can run lean. And those who claim that the savings are there are those who actually believe that and who have taken the time to do the research and see that many, many, many city manager forms of government have this flat, lean organization structure. They just don’t need two layers of political fat between themselves and the senior manager,” said Altamari.

Some members of the city council still want to know more. Last week, Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco introduced a measure to invite discussion over the proposed document.

“I move for council approval to discuss with the Charter Review Commission a review process where all council members receive copies of taxpayer-funded materials distributed by the Charter Review Commission before they are sent to the public,” said Scirocco.

The measure was approved unanimously.

The Charter Review Commission will meet Thursday night at 7 p.m.