Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Who says City Hall ain't for sale?

Here we go again with the “thinking outside the box” ideas to solve the fiscal crunch in the Spa City. Brought to you from the same City Council that virtually gave away a prime Broadway location and that once considered leasing a public safety facility from the most powerful developer in town, there is this most recent brainstorm: sell City Hall.

Finance Commissioner Matt McCabe unearthed this gem Tuesday night, while the same parade of cops marched into the meeting to reiterate the need for a new police facility, as if anyone in the city proper hadn’t heard this song and dance. McCabe was the first person on the council to point out the blisteringly obvious: removing the cops would leave a good quotient of the massive building vacant.

So if City Hall is moved with the police station, the historic hall could be sold for millions, which could then be used to finance the station. This presents a few interesting prospect. For instance, let’s say it’s sold to Sonny Bonacio; then he could literally own City Hall.

As whimsical as this concept may sound, it seems to be the only logical way for the city to fund the bevy of capital improvements proposed in Mayor Valerie Keehn’s 3-year $63 million budget. Meanwhile, the city has all but given the go-ahead on $6.1 million recreation facility, which is about a necessary as the new fleet of empty CDTA buses clogging up the city streets.

The problem with Keehn’s capital improvements budget is that there wasn’t an ounce of practical thinking put into it. The gospel word was ‘we need a new building no matter what’ rather than ‘we have no money to work with and need to make improvements.’ There’s no doubt the proposed police facility is way more ostentatious than the city needs and that other options were clearly not visited with any vigor.

Not to mention, just two of the new buildings proposed in the budget would cost the city roughly $1 million more per year to the city budget in operating costs alone. In other words, reach for the soap taxpayers.

McCabe’s proposal is probably about as rooted in reality as the one foisted by Public Works fixture Tom McTygue, when he suggested seizing The Saratogian property on Lake Avenue. But the finance commissioner’s proposal is a hell of a lot more realistic than expecting the already burdened working class to suck up a tax hike of nearly $100 so that Chief Ed Moore can parade around in his new digs.

On a side note, Mayor Keehn wryly dodged a potentially lethal political bullet during Tuesday’s meeting by casting aside a vote on the capital project budget. Facing a crowd of more than 100 potential voters, she claimed the council “wasn’t ready” to accept the budget in its present incarnation. What she really meant was that she doesn’t want to vote on the budget with less than two weeks to go before the hotly contested Democratic primary.

Keehn didn’t expect a massive turnout clearly fanned by a contingent of residents worried that they may no longer be able to afford to live in the city. Were the issue to go before a vote, it’s pretty clear the only ally she’d have would be Public Safety lapdog Ron Kim. Such a vote would undoubtedly be used as campaign fodder for challenger Gordon Boyd, who has publically suggested renovating City Hall instead of building new city buildings. And don’t think Republican Scott Johnson won’t pick up the tax issue promulgated by the capital budget once October rolls around.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio,

Most of what you say, I agree with. The crack about the buses, however, is ill-informed. I live on a route and use the bus, as do other employees at the institution where I work. Some who had junk cars just to get to work now no longer need them and others, even less fortunate, don't have to take cabs to the grocery stores. Are they crowded? No, not yet. But they are an option that will increasingly be used and allow us to act like a real city eventually (if density is allowed to go up).

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic idea. McCabe has done it again. His plan will accomplish a new Municipal center with far less pain than first expected. We do need a new building.
Would you spend 2-3 times the value of your house to remodel? No Way! Lets trade up for newer model. A more senior friendly building would be terrific.

The capital Budget process is staggering, but the real culprit is DPW.
DPW has over 13 million dollars for a water source that is not needed or even approved. ( See Judge Nolan's ruling in April) In fact the process is costing us MILLIONS in legal fees and engineering.
Give it up.
We no longer need the Lake. We have plenty, and when we do...there are other sources.
This is an old trick of Tommy's..load up the Capital Budget during an election year and saddle the Mayor with the whopper. Please check last year's capital budget...DPW did not requeste a nickel. Now all of a sudden he needs Millions to fix infrastucture. Why not use his reserves in Water and sewer?

Top Request in 2008-2013 Capital

DPW 25.5
13 Million just on water.

Public Safety 22.5 Million
Buildings and vehicles

Finance 12.1
parking deck 11 Million

Mayor's 4.5
New Trails and open space

Recreation 2.2

Accounts 0

DUMP the McTygue's lake 13 Million and use the McCabe Solution and we will be in pretty good shape.
That is nearly a 30 million dollar savings. Not bad

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Milhouse said...

I know McCabe has his issues, but he's the only one I've seen on this council or the last with any common sense. Everyone else runs around saying we need this or that, but nobody stops and looks at alternatives. And nobody attempts to do any sort of cost-benefit analysis, or thorough benchmarking, etc.

Selling City Hall may be extreme and unlikely (although I'm all for it -- The Saratogian has a greater need to be in a downtown office building than does anyone in City Hall), but maybe it will drive people to find other alternatives that come close to the financial benefit.

I'm writing in McCabe for Mayor.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How odd for a city, whose renaissance was assembled around the preservation of its downtown, one, which highlighted its meaningful intersection to imagine figuratively, burning the woodwork rather than pay for the heat. Having once fought the U.S. Postal Service when they wished to abandon their building across the street for a newer facility on Route 29 off West Avenue, can the City now make the same case against itself? How far we’ve come and how selfishly shameful.

City Hall is 'Town Hall', where our public addresses its municipality and conversely our elected officials hold office and hold court at this important central downtown location. That symbolism alone, is part of our sacred urban landscape.

Commissioner McCabe no doubt threw out the only reasonable (and unimaginable) option responding to an all or nothing proposal for a new Commando Station by the Mayor and Commissioner Kim. He can’t really be serious. No doubt, he was pointing out the absurdity of this proposal by suggesting to the Mayor, who campaigned last season to, “keep Saratoga Springs a small, vibrant, affordable and livable City” but now advocates to bankrupt its coffers and its citizens and increase its taxes to become unaffordable for most of its citizens even its wretched. Matt McCabe worked for us. He’s not about to abandon that promise.

And in supporting the proposal, instead of leaving office on a respectable note, that of a CFO having independently challenged his Council by maintaining a fiscal record in the black, his legacy would become one that abandoned that mission on exit, by throwing in the towel with this, an irresponsible taxpayer burden.

Just consider its sale? One million maybe two million? Developer puts in 10 million and pays taxes on two million, maybe two and a half given the Broadway commercial rates while the City tries to build new space for 75 to 80 million facing the back of Broadway. The citizens of Saratoga Springs will forever look back.

City Hall Condos? Get serious. Preserve the civic location and rehabilitate our city’s most important property, like other responsible historic Cities.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

I realize the swipe at the buses was a bit malicious. But I’m a firm skeptic of bus transportation in general; the fossil fuel spigot will eventually make them obsolete, so they’re simply prolonging the inevitable. Unless those beasts are running on solar panels or electric engines, I don’t see how they’re helping anything. Eventually, CDTA will trim the service unless ridership increases. And it’s not likely to increase by much during the off season.

Frankly, I feel the city proper is self-sustaining, provided there is affordable housing for lower and middle-income people. As a fellow blogger frequently points out, this will be largely dependent upon increasing the density of downtown and the surrounding areas. If workers can live in the city and still make money, then there are a bevy of businesses they can visit a la pied, rather than riding a diesel-belching behemoth up to the whorish shit-strip some call the town of Wilton.

Here’s another thought to mull and one I’ve made in the past: you can get to just about anywhere in the city in less than an hour by foot; if you ride a bike or any other foot-propelled device, cut that time in half. True, this doesn’t provide for the elderly, who might not be up for a mile walk. But for the under-70 crowd, guess what: it’s healthy, it’s affordable and it’s sustainable...and here I go again sneaking around in them damn green sneakers...

11:12 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Anonymous #2:

Alas, the water issue. I’ve always believed it’s been a pissing match between the city Dems and the county Repubs for which entity will make the killing on developing Moreau. Despite the bluster, I’ve never been convinced Saratoga Springs needs more water or even a better water source. Developers need water. Perhaps if they lived within constraints --if they were ever set by the city --the tax payers wouldn’t need to take one across the chin.

As for City Hall, perhaps McCabe got the idea from Troy, which proposed selling off their building Wednesday. The main problem I see with moving City Hall is that it’s an anchor on Broadway; it brings an immense amount of foot traffic downtown that might not otherwise be there. Moving it would have a pronounced effect on business, especially if it was to a site further away from the main strip than the proposed public safety complex on Woodlawn Avenue.

Like I said, it’s an interesting concept, just not one I think the public is ready to embrace quite yet.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Milhouse,

I agree wholeheartedly. At first, I wasn't a big fan of McCabe; he always seemed to be getting splinters from sitting on the fence. But recently, he’s taken some ballsy initiatives, such as regaining the VLT revenues for the city. I know dear Keehniacs, you’d all love to dote your coat-tail riding candidate with this accomplishment. Too bad the record says otherwise. And too bad McCabe is leaving office; it seems like the council is in dire need of a pragmatic voice.

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ho Al, The small buses are neat. Hopefully the riders will increase. They're clean and provide a service for not only seniors who no longer drive, but for everyone that desires public transportation. Kudos to the tireless efforts of Cheryl Keyrouse and her committee to see this through.

As far as City Hall, let's just bulldoze all of Broadway and start over with some nice new buildings like Wilton Town Center. Who are these people?

Then we can all move away.

4:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When will WE go in a forward direction? We just beat up every idea until nothing gets done. Then we wonder why! 98% of upstate communities would LOVE to have our problems. Parking, density, etc. lets all work in a positive direction... nothing will be perfect, but at least a step in the right direction. Get on the bus!!

8:28 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

True, other communities would love to have these problems. And don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful community to live in. But with that said, it’s becoming a community where only the wealthy can live. Twenty years ago, a 20-something lower middle-class person could work downtown or at Quad, save money and eventually buy a home. Today, this is increasingly a pipe dream.

These projects are nice and would have been nicer if they were done years ago, when the cost of construction was cheap. The answer to this is often ‘let’s get it done now, so we don’t have to pay even more in the future.’ This is bullshit.

Here’s what needs to be done: the city, like many Americans, needs to live within its means. That means no more credit purchases, no more bonding and proposing projects that are reasonable, not ones that are liable to boost the tax rate by nearly $100 per year. We pay these people GOOD MONEY to figure out solutions, and if they can’t, then we should get a group in office that can.

If you were talking about the buses comment, I apologize for the aforementioned diatribe. But I'll reiterate my skepticism of the Spa City bus system.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio
I agree with you
I love here too, but we can not solve our problems by 'send em packing" methods. If the current mayor is replaced, we will have 4 mayors in 10 years. I do think that the need for change is now, but lets be resonable in our expectations. The problem with affordability here is market driven conditions. Saratoga is a nice place to live, work, raise a family, and retire. Its popularity has shown growth here inside city limits, but has had significant growth in our surrounding communities. Just ask a Wiltonite or a Miltonite where they live and they will say "Saratoga". This is fine, but there are impacts. As a larger area, Saratoga County is growing and remains a terrific area. We need to work more closer with our neighbors on issues like buses and sharing additional resourses. Please look at the rental market. I wish everyone looked how resonable rents in town vs surrounding areas. The average apt costs are reasonable. The supply of apartments continue to increase.
Is it reasonable to expect a 20-30 year old to buy a house? Or buy a house in the most popular community within a 150 miles radius.
I do think many of our issues are happening in many of other communities. You are right the TAX issues are whats driving people away. We need to look for alternative revenue opportunites and cost savings methods to slim down the tax burden.
I do think the water expenses of the bond requests seem excessive, as we have enough and really never looked at improving our current system. Do we need two rec centers?
Keep up the good work! I may not always agree with you, but enjoy reading each day

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commissioner McCabe must know that his vote doesn't count, so he's spitballin in the final hours of his term. Selling City Hall even has the Mayor concerned. If the building were a vintage Les Paul, guitarman would be play’n a different tune. Hey, "It’s only an old guitar", man.

Wonder why the State Capitol or the White House both much older than our Town Hall, haven't been sold off for something new? Could it be National, State and local conscience maybe? Should we follow Troy New York’s lesson for municipal bankruptcy and public sellout of its historic Town Hall. Who are we and what are we becoming?

And in case you haven’t heard, Guitarman’s foreboding TV report today announcing a 20% tax increase without the new ‘gotta have’ facilities is setting everyone up for a reality check on this PS blowout budget request.

The wind of financial change is blowing nationally and locally where just beginnig to feel the breeze. Living within one's means is good advice now more than ever. Horatio.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Troy, the “Home of Uncle Sam” is a good example of what a historic city should not do. Announcing the demolition of their City Hall that once replaced the magnificent 150 year old cast iron facade Warren Building on Front street some 30 years ago, and looking now to move their offices somewhere off Broadway into a cheesy verizon building, their city fathers desperately try again, to undo decades of mismanagement and reckless planning.

Starting with the demolition of the “home of Uncle Sam” and the negligent dismantling of its downtown, the rerouting of traffic and trying always to get out from under the bankruptcy brought on by their own Police Department’s personnel overhead which resulted in a crippling tax burden years ago, the city still struggles.

Important and Historic Civic buildings representing a city’s government never get old, people do. Embracing our architectural treasures is the example that our Federal government and State Capitals with significantly older buildings do with their (our) buildings, without constructing replacement structures in the wrong places that become significantly obsolete in 30 years.

What could our outgoing Commissioner be fiddling with? Sarcastic humor? I think he may have been serious?

Maybe Saratoga Springs should take manifest destiny and eminent domain to heart (and a lesson from Troy). Instead of a City picnic and swimming area, we should build a new larger Public Safety Command Center with a combined Fire Station down by the Lake that would take care of all that other traffic competing with our truck traffic downtown. Why, that would also permit the addition of an amphibious plane hanger, fireboat and a much-needed LSI (Lake Side Investigation) Miami Vice speed boat (with an undercover yellow Ferrari of course) that were left out of the plans on Chopper lane!

4:23 AM  

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