Saratoga official alarmed by spending requests for 2014 budget
SARATOGA SPRINGS Initial city department spending requests for 2014 need to be scaled back, according to city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan.
During Tuesday night’s council meeting, she said the requests add up to about $42.7 million in general fund spending, which would be almost $2.8 million more than in the current budget. Madigan initially had asked for departments to keep spending increases below 1 percent, but that didn’t happen.
“We have no revenue stream that can increase at this rate,” she said Tuesday.
The state property tax cap is decreasing from 2 percent to 1.66 percent, but since Saratoga Springs didn’t raise taxes previously, its actual cap will be a little higher. Madigan didn’t have a final figure calculated for Tuesday’s meeting.
“I would not be comfortable overriding the tax cap,” she said Thursday. “That is something that is off the table for me.”
The department budget requests have not been released to the public yet, but Madigan said the Public Works and Public Safety departments, which take up the largest portion of the city’s budget, came in significantly above this year’s spending level.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Madigan noted that funds in the budget will need to be shifted toward payroll, retirement, health care and citywide insurance costs.
On Thursday, she added that city contracts, which almost all have to be renegotiated in the near future, will cost the city more money. Two contracts settled this year have already increased mandated costs for next year’s budget, she said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council also continued the approval process for 29 capital projects, including purchasing new equipment, upgrading recreation facilities, two major infrastructure projects and the creation of a controversial East Side fire and medical facility. Madigan, the lone opposition vote, said the list of projects might eventually need to be scaled back during the budget process.
She described the capital projects as budgetary requests similar to general budget requests, saying she might need to remove certain projects depending on the city’s finances. A comprehensive budget is due Oct. 1.
“If I need to make changes to it, I will,” Madigan said of the capital projects list.
On the positive side, she highlighted an increase in the state’s payment to the city for hosting the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, strong mortgage tax collection and a good revenue stream from ambulance services.
The revenue from the ambulance service, which is generated by having the city’s fire department transport patients and bill insurers, will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
The city council voted Tuesday night to extend the program beyond February 2014, when the two-year trial period of ambulance services provided by the fire department is scheduled to end. The measure was approved by a 4-1 vote, and now the city just needs approval from the state, which it is likely to receive.
Prior to the meeting, the city released its 18-month report on the ambulance service, which the fire department began running in February 2012. In that period there were 4,284 emergency medical calls, an average of almost nine a day, almost 88 percent of which were handled by the fire department.
Providing ambulance services cost the city about $338,000 in personnel and other expenses and generated about $1.1 million in revenue, according to the report.
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said before Tuesday’s meeting that the ambulance service has improved since the fire department took over from Saratoga Emergency Medical Services. “Everything is run better,” he said.
Also supporting the extension was Accounts Commissioner John Franck, who described himself as skeptical of the program when it began. Based on the 18-month review and anecdotal evidence, he said, “It far exceeded what I thought it was going to do.”
The lone opposition vote was Mayor Scott Johnson, a Republican, who said he opposed the extension as a matter of consistency, as he initially was against the program.