Let them eat cake
Such is the case with the fiscal conundrum now posed by the multi-million dollar line item contributed to city and county coffers by the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway. While city officials bristle at the mere thought of ending the so-called VLT-revenue, they also haven’t made much of a justification for using this revenue stream for it’s intended purpose: to mitigate the negative impacts of the fledgling casino that set up shop on Jefferson Street.
For two consecutive years, the City Council has growled at the Governor’s office over proposed cuts to this revenue stream. Losing this funding source could cause a major budgetary shortfall for the city, they’ve argued. Former Mayor Valerie Keehn even partially based her failed re-election campaign on her deal-cutting with now deposed Gov. Eliot Spitzer to make the funding a legal mandate –even though this legislation was brushed aside less than a year later.
What city officials persistently fail to provide is evidence of the Racino’s negative impact on the community, other than its bankrupting of countless seniors. They may be making that case now after nine background check—er state police troopers were reassigned from the facility this week to fight real crime elsewhere in the state. Naturally, the two largest proponents of blasting police spending through the roof were the first to chime in.
More work for city officers, barked Chief Ed Moore, no pun intended. More overtime for the department, yapped Public Safety Commissioner Ron “This is a commission-form of government and I’ll speak when I want to” Kim. More patrols, more calls, more of everything they told the Times Union Wednesday.
“Based on the activity I know they were doing, it's going to seriously impact our department,” the chief commented.
Yet, in roughly four years of operation, the state police made a whopping 180 arrests at the Racino. That breaks down to a little less than one arrest a week. Felony arrests last year totaled 13, or about one per month, according to state police; hardly the level justifying an on-site police presence at the facility. Also, let’s face it: when the average patron is attached to a portable oxygen tank and refers to Bing Crosby as ‘that young fellow,’ the need for an augmented police force is greatly diminished.
But in the world according to Kim, the Racino is a public safety hotbed. He claims police have responded to a disproportionate 1,800 “calls for assistance” last year alone. Naturally, Kim’s figure includes hundreds if not thousands of “calls” for employee background checks, meaning he either doesn’t care about the facts or simply doesn’t know them; at the very least, he doesn’t read them. In an article published in the Daily Gazette two weeks ago –and including comments from Kim –state Lottery Division officials stressed the background checks will fall on the Racino’s staff.
Still, Kim will likely use his inflated number to argue for an on-site city police presence, which would predicate the need for either more department overtime or the hiring of more officers. And adding more officers would mean there’s more need for space at the department, such as a new multi-million-dollar police facility, as Kim’s logic suggests.
Under these precepts, expect to see either Kim or Moore make an argument for using the state’s VLT aid to staff more police, pay police overtime, build a new station, or all three. The problem comes when the VLT aid dries up, something that is only a matter of time given the state’s crashing budgetary crisis.
City officials squandered past offerings of aid as a way to keep taxes ‘low’ during a time of unprecedented economic growth in Saratoga Springs, instead of trimming government excess and using it as a one-time windfall. With the aid still in place for another year, now would be a wise time to adopt a fiscally prudent change in philosophy anticipating the revenue will dry up; perhaps even set the money aside in a capital account. But now that the economy has clearly turned the corner, it’s going to be a tough sell to wean city budgets from this needle, especially with junkies like Kim and Moore chattering on about public safety woes at the racino.