New Mayor Scott Johnson said Tuesday “a deal is very close” that will protect the city’s interests regarding the historic Saratoga Race Course.
“We as a community can breathe a sigh of relief,” Johnson said after being sworn in during ceremonies at the Canfield Casino in Congress Park.
Johnson, 52, the retired trial lawyer and Republican who defeated former Mayor Valerie Keehn in November, said a new franchise agreement being discussed in Albany will preserve the amount of money the New York Racing Association has been paying the city, county and city school district in taxes for decades.
Local officials have feared that if the state acquires the thoroughbred horse racing track on Union Avenue and the 350 acres around it, that taxes would no longer be paid on the property.
Johnson said he talked to state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno on Monday evening about negotiations on a new franchise agreement that will replace the agreement between NYRA and the state that ended Dec. 31.
NYRA has operated the Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks since the mid-1950s.
He said Bruno, R-Brunswick, assured him that protection of the city’s tax interests will be included in any new agreement. The city would also have a voice regarding the preservation of the historic nature of the flat track, Johnson said.
Instead of direct property taxes, the state would make a payment in lieu of taxes to the school system, the city and the county, according to Johnson.
Johnson said protecting the city’s interests regarding the Saratoga Race Course has been his “primary focus” in recent days. He said he will meet in person with Bruno today in Albany.
City Judge Douglas Mills conducted the swearing-in ceremony at noon before more than 250 people seated in the casino’s main ballroom.
The City Council goes from an all-Democrat governing body to a Republican-controlled council with the election of Johnson, Republican Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco and Republican Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins.
Democrats John Franck, accounts commissioner, and Ron Kim, public safety commissioner, round out the new City Council. They were both re-elected to two-year terms in November.
Matthew Veitch, a Republican who defeated Cheryl Keyrouze for the position of county supervisor in November, will be joined by re-elected incumbent county Supervisor Joanne Yepsen, a Democrat, as representatives of the city on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.
State Assemblyman Roy J. McDonald, R-Saratoga, thanked all the new officials for working hard during their campaigns and becoming public servants.
“I have a vested interest in one of your new elected officials,” McDonald joked. He referred to his son-in-law, city supervisor Veitch, who is married to McDonald’s daughter, Stephanie.
Each candidate was introduced and sworn in by Mills.
“I want to thank my mother for her role in making me the man I am today,” Johnson said.
Johnson grew up poor in Saratoga Springs, spending some of his childhood living at the government-subsidized Jefferson Terrace apartments with his divorced mother. He moved away, becoming a successful litigator, and returned to Saratoga Springs eight years ago.
Each newly elected official introduced his deputy and said a few words.
For example, new Finance Commissioner Ivins said he will be touring the city police station, which is located in the basement of City Hall, today so he can understand the situation and “work on a solution.”
City officials have been discussing the possible construction of a new public safety building for months.
Scirocco, who defeated longtime Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue in November, said the transition has been a smooth one despite Monday’s and Tuesday’s snowstorms. Scirocco’s deputy commissioner, Pat Design, was once McTygue’s deputy commissioner before the two had a falling out.
The City Council will hold its first regular meeting of the year tonight in City Hall.
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