Newly elected Mayor Scott Johnson asked the City Council to look closely at how it spends taxpayer money and urged the state to fairly share gaming revenue in his first State of the City address Sunday.
Johnson said that he plans to take a closer look at a number of city issues, including the proposed public safety building, the water supply, city planning and development and affordable housing.
“We have much unfinished business before we become a community equally responsive to all,” he said. “Many of these issues call for a vigorous debate. Regardless of our politics, we should at least act with purpose.”
Johnson renewed his criticism of a state plan to phase out funding to the city by 2010 that is generated by the more than 1,700 video lottery terminals at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.
“Our claim to continue payment of $3.8 million is not only reasonable, but pales in comparison to the revenue taken by the state,” he said.
The state allocated that money to fund gambling treatment programs and pay for the extra security required by operations at the facility.
“Saratoga should not lose its rightful revenue due to the inability and inefficiency of New York state to balance its budget.”
A controversial issue during the campaign was the proposed $8 million public safety building on a city-owned parking lot on High Rock and Lake avenues. Johnson, a Republican, said that he wants to make sure the plan is right for the city.
“We need to go back and examine the options, only because they haven’t been fully examined,” he said. “I’m not trying to stop this from moving forward.”
Johnson announced plans to form a committee to look into all capital projects, including the proposed public safety building.
But, according to Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim, a Democrat, work has already been done to explore options for the building.
“I don’t understand why we’re creating all these committees. I had a capital construction committee that I named the day I was elected in 2006,” Kim said. “They did their work. We’ve made our conclusions.”
Johnson also plans to form a Tax Relief Committee to look into ways to reduce property and school taxes as well as review spending in city departments.
The city increased its self-imposed bonding limit from 1 percent to 2 percent of total assessed value in 2006, and Johnson said that any future increases should be approved by a public vote.
He also wants to explore the possibility of the city rejoining the county sales tax formula. Saratoga Springs decided to collect sales tax revenue directly from the state in 2002, a move that Johnson said has cost the city revenue.
“The prospect is not good since the participating towns and villages have since been receiving an increased share of what would have been our payment,” he said. “Regardless, I will concentrate my efforts to explore the potential.”
Johnson also pledged to maintain the quality of racing at Saratoga Race Course.
“While it is often recognized that the architectural heritage of the track needs to be preserved, the importance of maintaining rights to specific races such as the Travers Stakes is overlooked,” he added.
After the speech, Johnson said that he hopes the City Council will be able to cooperate despite their political differences.
“Once we get along, so to speak, we can solve the issues facing our community,” he said. “We’re bound to disagree on some issues but it’s more important at the end of the day that the city’s business gets done.”
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