SARATOGA SPRINGS — The proposed 2021 city budget would make deep cuts in city spending and still raise property taxes by about 6 percent because of a dive in sales tax revenue. Some layoffs of city employees is all but certain, though the exact number is unclear.
The tentative budget proposed Tuesday by city Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan totals $41.9 million, which is a $6.8 million reduction from this year’s budget It would basically eliminate the city’s youth recreation programs in 2021, while also making deep cuts in the budgets of the Public Works, Police and Fire departments.
Any property tax increase would be the first such increase for Saratoga Springs residents in at least eight years. The budget will require approval from the City Council, and could undergo significant changes as commissioners who face cuts in their departments are likely to resist. The commissioners at Tuesday night’s council meeting did not publicly react.
Madigan laid the blame for the reductions on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had devastating economic consequences on revenues like the 3 percent city sales tax. While parts of the economy returned after being basically shut down in March and April, Saratoga Race Course ran without fans this year — and race fans are at the core of the summer economy.
Madigan had previously predicted this year’s revenues could be as much as $14 million short of what was expected, and the COVID economy is expected to continue into 2021 or longer. She has warned that massive cuts would be needed if the city doesn’t receive new federal or state aid — something that looks unlikely in the short term. Earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he will suspend financial stimulus negotiations with congressional leaders until after the Nov. 3 election.
“Significant reductions in expenses are required to balance a budget with such a sharp decrease in revenue,” Madigan said in her initial budget presentation delivered remotely via Zoom on Tuesday night. “Budgeted expense reductions include a 10-percent cut in all wage appropriations for full-time employees, serving to mitigate the number of layoffs, and lessen the impact to police, fire, and DPW labor and employment lines.”
Any salary reductions, though, would require negotiations with the city’s labor unions.
“I hope and believe that we all share a mutual goal of keeping as many jobs intact as possible; this reduction is a good investment toward that goal,” Madigan said.
Cuts in police and fire personnel are inevitable, she said, because the cost of those departments is mostly for personnel.
Among the proposed cuts:
— Other than the summer youth program, all city recreation programs would be eliminated.
— The DPW labor budget is reduced 25 percent, on top of the 10-percent reduction in full-time employee wages Madigan is proposing.
— In the Police Department, in addition to the 10-percent wage reduction, the police officer, sergeant, lieutenant, investigator and sergeant budget lines would be reduced 15 percent.
— In the Fire Department budget, the overall reductions would be the same as for the Police Department, and a vacant assistant chief’s position would not be filled.
— Funding for non-profit organizations that have contracts to provide services would be reduced 50 to 60 percent.
Whether any of the cuts would require significant layoffs remains up in the air, since the commissioners of public safety and public works would have broad authority to decide where cuts would take place within their own departments. Madigan said she is trying to maintain budgeting flexibility, in case federal financial aid comes in the future.
There are also three capital projects that will continue in 2021. They are planning for the East Side fire and EMS station, safety repairs to the Loughberry Lake dam, and a tub grinder and DPW leaf and debris pickup. If any of the projects win specific council authorization, Madigan said the city would borrow the money for them, and the tax impact wouldn’t be felt until 2022.
A public hearing on the draft budget will be held at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20, at City Hall, with another public hearing still to be scheduled.