Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More with less

Believe it or not, Saratoga Springs could learn a lot from the ailing newspaper industry. The city is facing a grim economic outlook, much like the lumbering media giants did during the late 1990s, as a perfect storm of failure was swirling over their business model. Similarly, the city is trapped beneath a storm cone that formed as a result of their abject failure to predict an inevitable slowdown of municipal revenue streams.

The newspapers could have forecast their decline when the World Wide Web picked up steam during the mid-90s. Those publications that embraced the Internet have since staved off many of the cuts they needed to make when Craigslist and eBay hit the market several years later. Those who fell behind this learning curve were left with declining profits, an archaic business model and no way of sustaining their workforce.

Nearly all local newspapers have contracted their staff numbers through lay-offs or attrition. And it’s a good thing too, considering the present state of the economy. Today the motto in most newsrooms is doing more with less. It’s a sad fact of life for the media, which can no longer afford even a fraction of the amenities they once did during their heyday.

Newsrooms have since adjusted to these cuts, some more seamlessly than others. The overriding concept of these cuts is doing more with less. Consolidating departments, reducing bureaus and ensuring every last employee is giving 100 percent. Some say this has diminished the product at the newsstand and has furthered diminishing circulation numbers. But ask any publisher and they’ll tell you the only other alternative was to pack it all up and call it a day.

Pan to the city’s developing fiscal crisis. For nearly two decades, budget planners have had the luxury of nearly unprecedented economic development on their side. Vacant lots were being converted into high-rise condominiums; run-down row houses were being turned into an art district, the mansions on North Broadway more than tripled in value. At the apex of this renaissance, the city was showered with more than $3 million worth of windfall funding through the state’s video lottery terminal aid.

Most fiscal planners worth their salt would have urged an ounce of fiscal restraint at this point; perhaps squirrel this aid away into a rainy-day fund. But at the time, the decision was made to dump the VLT aid into the city’s general fund and keep on spending. And they did.

All of this culminated with the 8 percent increase in taxes shoved through under the mayoral administration of Valerie Keehn in 2007, just as the real estate ‘correction’ was beginning and Albany was threatening to hatchet all of the VLT aid. Some municipal groveling and a helping hand from lame-duck Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno saved the city from what could have easily been a 20 percent tax increase or what today’s commissioners might term ‘drastic cuts.’

The Republican-led city council hasn’t done much to right the ship so dreadfully steered off course by the two preceding councils; one led by democrats and the other by the GOP. Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins first talked a big game in cutting overtime to the police and public works departments, and even laying off nearly two dozen part- and full-time city workers.

Then miraculously these cuts were all restored. All it took was the state Department of Environmental Conservation to mail a $526,000 check for aid from the state’s ‘energy to ice’ program. Suddenly, Saratoga Springs was fat city again, more than able to sustain a workforce that was unsustainable during the first round of budget talks. There was lots of back slapping right up until the inevitable news from Albany came last week, indicating the governor is again wittling down the city’s VLT aid. This will leave the city with an estimated 5 percent budget shortfall.

At this point, most rational thinkers would deduce that it’s a bad idea to balance a budget deficit on aid derived from tenuous revenues. At the very least, they’d recognize the shrinking likelihood of the city being isolated from a nationwide recession.

The newsmen realized they were in a similar budgetary predicament a decade ago. Some tried to scurry out of it by consolidating their industry for quick-hit one-time gains. Others rolled with the punches and kept their newsrooms competitive while trying to realize new methods of earning revenue. In both cases, they realized the need to keep a lithe staff that is able to do more with fewer financial resources. It’s something the city should be thinking about as it slogs through the latest financial debacle. In this case, there is no other choice but to cut the burgeoning ranks of city personnel.

This starts with a hiring freeze and continues with retirement incentives. Overtime budgets should be slashed in half, even if it means at the behest of lessening the nearly weekly downtown street festivals. And if the hole continues to gape, then it’s time to start trimming workers, starting at the top and working down. Perhaps if the city had saved some of its boon-time revenues, they could have at least prolonged the cuts they will certainly face either this year or next. But they didn’t, and now it’s time to face the music.

When Ivins takes the floor this evening, his command to the commissioners should be to find at least three positions in each department that can be consolidated into one, with specific regards to the Public Safety and Public Works departments. If they can’t figure it out, then he should advertise the double digit tax increase, and then let residents figure it out with pitchforks and torches.

29 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

dem roc said: a few noteworthy points. firstly ken ivins has no idea what's he's doing, his cuts up to this point are the kind that actually cost people in the long run, ie: cutting one of the parking enforcement officers which actually brings in revenue. secondly the dpw has already been hit hard by cuts up to this point and has done more with less. that also includes the numerous part time employees tmac saddled us with at the end of his tenure. a polite fuck you to incoming commish skip scirocco. the real question here should be, if we can't afford the staff we have now, then how can we 1) afford $6.5 million for a pathetic rec center. and 2) who the hell is going to work there. aren't we going to have to fund some workers to work at this facility?
now people don't mind paying taxes when they get something in return, but the special k wants to cut services, increase taxes and build the rec center, all for his mayor. it should also be pointed out that there have been little or no cuts in the finance, accounts or mayor's dept's. a lot of worker waste goes to the rec department under the guide of the mayor and his underling linda terricola.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dem roc said: also the tax increase for this year is at about 3%. which in reality is pretty standard. the big botch job is going to be the vlt revenue, or lack there of. special k refuses to acknowledge its loss and will not remove it from the budget for future years. he also has alotted $ 165,000 to the new unbuilt rec center for ffe. that accounts for 1% of your tax increase for this year. so lets cut the millions in spending, or we could send billy mac and his $100,000 salary packing.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horatio
You continually compare your "newsroom" background to city politics. You don't get the picture yet. City jobs, city budgets, and city "old-school-ways" don't compare to the real world. Never will.
This crisis "too, will pass" and happy days will once again prevail. Public Safety and Public Works are controlled by the unions, and their inflated retirement, and medical packages.
Get used to it.

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Milhouse said...

I think the city is in a bind on this issue. Budget without the VLT aid, and the state will say, "See, you can live without it." The city then seals it's own fate. To have any chance of getting the state to give the city anything, the city has to act as if the money is critical to survival. Of course we're likely to lose the money anyway (as we probably should for fairness sake - these are tough times in NYS).

It's my understanding that they'll likely have to pass a budget before they know for sure whether or not the VLT money is coming. If that's accurate, hopefully they'll be put in a situation where they are forced to cut spending after the fact. I suspect that otherwise they'd take the easy road and raise taxes. People in this town are too soft to take to the streets.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Kyle York said...

HA-

Interesting post, incredible lack of raging readers, all-too-obsessed with their navels. My hat is off my bald head to 6:16 PM and 7:40 PM. Smart puppies all.

While they were posting, I was listening in the City Council chambers. Ivins proved once again to be razor-sharp, asking tough questions of our VERY competent energy-saving engineers at Johnson controls.

Kim, as usual, used the exact same energy presentation to send the human hordes HOWLING into the streets in horror as he "proved" he could spare not one penny from his budget. Really. You WILL die without his omnipotent over$ight.

Skip is content to leave you shivering in fear of roadways blocked by mounds of snow.

The Mayor admirably clings to the miniscule hope that our economically-depressed slum will get its share of VLT money...if YOU will only write a letter. Don't forget Santa.

God bless them all and their concern for our well-being. But this crisis calls for the GUTS to make the CUTS.

Hari-Kari Kongrats to you for a laser-sharp post. Ivins will do no less than you suggest. Franck will be every bit as responsible. Our Mayor will continue to remain optimistic and upbeat...as he should. But he'll come to grips with reality.

Our great frustration will come as Skip wields the weapon of Snow at every turn. And Kim? Support him NOW...in EVERY manner...with EVERY penny...or you will DIE.

The great humor here is that these are kids in their school play. For the REAL return of RODAN, set aside December 3rd to watch the Saratoga Board of Supervisors hurl you under the spiked tires of the AMD-Capitating Budget Bus from Hell.

NOT for the squeamish.

-Kyle York
Happy Idiot Struggling for the Legal Tender
Saratoga Springs

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dem roc said: kyle york, if they cut the part time employees who will do their job? it's not a threat, it's reality, one made worse by the poor decsions of your pal tom mctygue. you make it sound like dpw has an unlimited personnel. if you cut those positions, there is simply no one left to do those particular jobs, as a former noshow employee of dpw you should know that. but those jobs are gone and there are less people working this year then last. so the cuts have already been made by the dept. now you obviously must've found a new no show job. it's time some of these other departments catch up. and please spare us the daddy warbucks attitude where you pretend that you're paying these people hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries personally. if people want to see a decrease in taxes, bag the rec center, which at this point has become an indoor basketball court, with linda terricola's new office. and scrap any plans to develop the wasted city owned property out to the lake that tommy sunk money into so he could build his un-needed $20 million water plant.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Faulkner said...

Paraphrasing the governor of Rhode Island, you can't have the public sector be more attractive to work in than the private sector. It doesn't work.

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard a rumor that Circus Cafe was changing their theme to Westerns.

Will it really be called 3:10 to Yummy?

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Father Joe said...

The ass backwards for of government in this city ( Commission Form) sets the stage for nothing but bickering and backstabbing. The questions needs to be addressed again. Does this form of government have any positive aspects?

Lets get a move on and finally kick this disfunctional government to the curb. Tommy M wanted this form to stick around for his own gain. Now that he got his ass kicked (twice--DPW and City Dem Committee) that ends that charade.

Lets start talking in a civil manner to achieve a more workable government for The City

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dem roc-

Could you expand a little bit on your quote below ?
"...(Kyle York)as a former no show employee of dpw ..."

Sounds interesting. Thanks.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Putting Bronner's Photo on Milk Cartons said...

Hey Molester Joe

oh no....do we have to start this stupid discussion again?

you 'charter revision' types have YET to offer both a legitimate reason to change it AND a superior alternative

until then: try accomplishing something tangible

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Val's Stalker(John T) said...

The change of government is the way to go. This form gets nothing done year after year. This city would be close to 1 mil ahead in its first year. I agree! McTygue was a problem because all these pussies were scared of him! Let's change the government. What is there to lose. Taxes keep going up no matter who is in office.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One only needs to look at the current state of afairs of the city to realize "It still ain't working". The 'stupid discussion" is more geared at ....why keep it!
New players every two years and we slide further behind.
O'Connell, Klotz, Lenz, Keehn, and now Johnson. 5 Mayors ( YES 5)in the span of 8 years? Please tell me how that is working for you?
Lets get our head of the sand and get a government that can have a better chance of succeeding in today's difficult environment.

Lets talk about it soon..done well it will take a few years to transisition to a reasonable solution.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commission form of Government is obsolete. The right people working together would certainly help making this a reality. The taxpayers can't afford this way anymore. Now is a good time to get started. Deal me in!

6:36 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Father Joe et all,

This is a discussion I'd like to entertain, because I've never had anyone successfully explain to me WHY a new government would behoove this city. Now before you start typing, let me give you the advantage of knowing my perspective.

First of all, politicians by their very nature are a corruptible and contemptible breed. They sometimes vary in their degrees of being corrupt and contemptible, but there's always a bit there for guys like me to sit back and say 'I told you so' when they fuck up royally.

With this said, a strengthened mayoral government would essentially take all the power now vested in five councilmembers and hand it over to one mayor. If the mayor happens to be a natural leader, he or she will then select the most qualified candidates as department heads, thereby replacing what we now commonly know as the "deputies." I put deputies in quoatations, because these are the folks who are really running each department's day-to-day operation.

So basically, we elect a commissioner not based on the job they will do for their department, but on the deputy they will hire to run their department. These positions are almost always handed to political hacks like Eileen Finneran and Erin Dreyer to name a few. But at least now, you have five different people that can choose to select a competent deputy instead of one for patronage reasons. Under a strengthened mayoral form, this power goes to one individual, who can stock the city with all kinds of crazies running departments that have no business running.

Of course, there is also the council vote that comes with each commissioner seat, but that is something no where near as weighty as the deputies themselves. In a mayoral administration, this power would be divested to a ward-elected council. The council then typically becomes a rubber stamp for the mayor's initiatives, provided there's not an insurrection(i.e. political coup) from the ranks.

The problem in the mayor-form of government is that you basically give the keys to a city to one individual. Those keys are now divvied up among five popularly elected council seats. Given the likelihood and predilections of the standard American voter, I'd much rather five chances and usually at least 10 candidates to find one amongst the mix that is worth his or her salt. Going to the mayoral system, you'll have a choice of two, maybe three if a third party gets involved(not).

Either way, you can't honestly think changing the form of government in the city would actually improve or change anything for voters. And if you do, please explain exactly what it would change and how. I am deeply skeptical of this notion, but do your best to convince me. From where I stand, the only advantage to ditching the commissioner system of government is that we would no longer have to deal with Ron Kim's fat mouth.

8:11 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Our government consists of a few elected officials and hundreds of unionized civil servants.
Thankfully our elected officials are only paid a small nominal amount of money. And thankfully they serve for only two years which many of us consider a good thing because we have more of an opportunity to get rid of the incompetent and dishonest ones.

By far the largest part of our government, the unionized civil servants, are the cause of 90% of our problems and 90% of our expenses.
If you are going to keep talking about changing our government, you will have to come up with some ideas that are more meaningful to generate real interest.

Changing the dynamics of the few elected officials that we have will not do much. Going from a two year term to a four year term or giving the mayor more executive authority and making the other commissioners legislators will not do much.

If you want to change the government, let’s hear about proposals for change of our unionized civil servants.
Let’s talk about privatization of services.
Let’s talk about volunteers to alleviate costs.
Let’s talk about consolidation of services with other local governments.
Let’s talk about real negotiations of civil service contacts that reflect the realities of today’s economy.
Let talk about unionized civil servants retaining their jobs like all of us must do. We in the private sector must be competent, competitive, hard working, polite, and honest in order to make a living.

So, unless you folks that keep ranting about “changing” our government are will to step up to the plate take the bull by the horns and start talking about our “little” civil service problem I guess the best thing for us to do is what Faulkner suggest; let’s start taxing those “steam trays of tuna noodle, beef stew and other hot gelatinous goodies from Stewart's”.

Yum. Yum.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Bob Cleary #2 said...

See, the thing is you mention a Mayor getting deputies to run these departments. They already have directors in each department. There is no need to hire deputies. I think with a new government form they can get the unions to either cooperate or we abolish jobs and privatize. We obviously can't destroy these unions by privatizing all city services. Hiring the private sector will cost much more money. But this can certainly work.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Does anyone know if the city or school is hiring? I want to get me a government job. said...

. Bob Cleary #2 said…

“Hiring the private sector will cost much more money”


I don’t see how you can say this.
National statistics tell us the average government worker makes roughly $25,000 more per year than a person working in the private sector doing the same type of job.
The issues of early retirement, all of the paid time off, and the fact that most government workers contribute little or nothing towards health care drive this cost up.
And of course, the bigger issues of efficiency and incompetence make a bad problem worse.
If you look at any private business’s retention rate as compared to that of the city, you will notice that private businesses have the ability to get rid of workers who don’t measure up. Not so with the city.

The city has too many workers who aren’t worth a warm bucket of spit.
And the same holds true for the school district.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to hear anymore about the police dept. about how they want a new police station or overtime.
Here is why:

There has only been 3 murders in sartoga in the past 25 years and none of them solved. oh wait.... one was solved only because the murderer himself confessed to every bartender in town.

if they want a new police station which is in fact needed they should learn how to solve crimes instead of writing tickets to citizens, then solve the pam devisio murder!!

SH** If you solve that, I will help build the new Police station, since I could use the work.

So, lets do a recap for the donut guys who don't understand.... Want a new police station and overtime? Solve Crimes!!!! As it stands now you are lucky you are getting any money at all for what your job is.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

seems to me the private sector has cost taxpayers much more money then municipal employees recently, and I don't see any of the incompetent leaders of these company's losing their jobs

12:39 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Shot,

I do recall unionized labor playing into the whole charter revision push. I know there are some who are saying a "new form of government" would eliminate the need for deputies. I'm thoroughly unconvinced. Let's play out this imaginary scenario:

2006 - Valerie Keehn's charter revision push goes through and the enhanced executive branch takes hold the following year.

2007 - Absent her run against Tom McTygue, Keehn manages a narrow victory against challenger Scott Johnson.

2008 - The city reorganizes under Keehn's leadership.

Now let's pause here, because I'm sure some of you have that feeling in your stomachs as though you've just done a spin on the Gravitron after eating the Lucky Garden's all-you-can eat Chinese buffet. And also because we want to take a look at the Eileen Finneran situation. Does the deputy mayor pack it in? Does she gracefully bow out of public service, content to let Keehn run the show?

The answer is no. But absent a public saftey deputy's position, where does she go? Not home, I'm afraid. Finneran would be summarily appointed by Keehn to some mindless unionized job with a salary equivalent to the deputy's dollars, where she would enjoy a never-ending stream of benefits. In fact, I would wager a guess that all the deputies would find their way back to the feeding trough to get a snout full of slop.

So onto my next point. If the job the deputies do is routinely done by the department directors, then why not simply illuminate the deputies? It's easy to do, as the council demonstrated with Erin Dreyer, and it would save the city about $350,000 annually. Or if we're worried the part-time commissioners won't be able to do their jobs, why not allot the deputy's salary to them, make it a full-time job to be on the council and eliminate the part-time wages at far less of a savings(about $65,000)?

The answer: because no one in that fucking government gives a rat's ass about saving the standard homeowner a dime. They are from a clique of well-to-do residents that can afford the outrageous taxes. Changing the form and/or incarnation of the council will do little to allay their free wheeling spending under both the Democrats and Republicans. Ideas like the aforementioned don't receive any credence because they mean less spaces at the trough.

So our poster at 6:36 can jump up and down about the lack of reasonable government style, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it's not the style that's the problem; it's rubes like Finneran, Pat Design, Dreyer and the like who are just going to jump into any void created by such a change.

11:55,

That's why they need a 32,000 square-foot public safety facility: So they can crank up the crime lab. And the crime state-of-the-art gymnasium. And the crime officer R&R lounge. And the crime cushy leather-and-mahogany furnished offices. Maybe the crime jacuzzi of there's any crime-money left over...and if there isn't fuck it. We can always raise taxes...But a clarification. The Kevin Arkenau murder was solved. Of course, the Saratoga boys in blue didn't play even a cursory role in its solution. I did hear Chief Moore did a Starbuck's run for the FBI a few times, if that counts.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Val's Stalker(John Tygu) said...

Ho,

Stop dwelling on the woulda coulda. Keehn is gone and not coming back. Bob Cleary and Dennis Mulholland are coming on! They will get this government going in the right direction. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN!

3:22 PM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Anonymous 12:39 PM said...

“seems to me the private sector has cost taxpayers much more money then municipal employees recently, and I don't see any of the incompetent leaders of these company's losing their jobs”


So are you trying to tell us two wrongs make a right?

Although right now it does appear that some of the private sector is costing the taxpayers a lot of money you are going to eventually see these big companies fail because of their stupidity and greed.
After the dust settles, those companies who have been following the golden business rules will survive and come out of all of this in a stronger position.
Personally, I could give two shits if the Big 3 becomes the Big 1.

And if those big companies want to pay their top executives millions every year as they continue to lose billions every year and if investors are stupid enough to hold and buy their stock and if banks are idiotic enough to continue to finance them and if customers are stupid enough to buy their gas guzzling products then so be it;

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The larger facility assures nothing more than the ability for the next Commissioner to consent to the Chief to quietly approve staff increases illegally filling “to the gills” the acquired space, with a long blue line of relatives insuring the legacy of an inefficient over staffed department – complaining of course all the way, that the infrastructure prevents them from effectively insuring the public’s safety.

In our current state of deflation, the City (and our untouchable school board Administrator) should not be inflating. The Commissioner of Finance should act responsibly and think locally from the global perspective. Now is the time to balance the escrow account.

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey einstien, the invstors in these big companies are the tax payers.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Bob Cleary and Dennis Mulholland said...

Bob Cleary and Dennis Mulholland think that Shot in the is brainless. It's not that these businesses are hurting themselves. it's about government bailing them out with our money. We will make a difference.

CNANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN!

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Bob Cleary #2 said...

dennis Mulholland will be the next McTygue backed loser! Just a little prediction!

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Bob Cleary #2 said...

Shot ,

Will you vote for me,Dennis Mulholland?

4:14 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Please do not print.

Horatio,
I don’t know who this guy is and I am sure he doesn’t know me.
Like you, Ben, and many others, I would like to remain anonymous. I would appreciate it if you would not help him facilitate a guessing game of who I might be.

Thanks Shot.

2:54 PM  

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