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DEC grant may help some keep their jobs in Saratoga

DEC grant may help some keep their jobs in Saratoga

Methane gas may save some city workers from losing their jobs next year.

Methane gas may save some city workers from losing their jobs next year.

The city this week got word that it may spend a grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation on anything officials want, and the finance commissioner plans to recommend that some of the funds go toward restoring certain jobs that are slated for cuts at year’s end.

The “Energy to Ice” grant is expected to bring in up to $526,000 for the city, based on a voucher the city submitted to DEC this week, officials said.

Officials found out in February that the city was eligible to get up to $747,000 in state money if they spent twice that much on a program that harnesses landfill gas to run compressors at the city’s ice rinks. Director of Public Works William McTygue applied for the grant and spent hours sifting through paperwork to tally the amount the city has spent on the system.

But when they heard they got the grant, officials weren’t sure whether DEC would restrict how the city spends the money. Officials found out this week they can spend the money how they wish.

DEC has not said exactly how much the city will get, but the city has asked for $526,829.60, half the cost it spent on the energy system in the last 10 years.

The city could apply for more from DEC if it spends more upgrading the system, but Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said it’s not likely the city will spend more money on that now.

The grant is an unexpected one-time windfall for the city in a tough budget year. Officials expected to lay off two dozen workers next year while passing a 3.8 percent tax increase.

“I think it’s good news for the city. It’ll help us with our budget and put people back to work,” Scirocco said.

At a news conference Friday, Finance Commissioner Kenneth Ivins outlined the ways city officials can use the money:

* to bolster a $4 million reserve that the city’s financial advisers say should be closer to $10 million;

* to put in the $38.1 million general fund and nearly eliminate a tax increase;

* to spend toward expenses that the departments of public safety and public works say they can’t do without next year;

* or set it aside for unforeseen shortfalls next year.

Ivins said he will recommend the city spread the money out and do a little of each of those things.

But the DEC grant won’t go far in covering the city’s wants. It’s not enough to fund the $600,000 in expenditures that the departments of public works and public safety want to have restored to their departments next year.

A public hearing on the proposed 2009 city budget will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Canfield Casino in Congress Park. Ivins said he hopes residents will attend and give officials feedback on how they want the grant to be used.

The City Council will have the final say in how the money is spent. Ivins said he plans to meet with the other commissioners individually next week on the issue.

Ivins said he expects to present the City Council with an amended budget that will include the extra funds on Nov. 3, and after that the city will need to have a public hearing on the amendments before the council votes on the final budget by the end of November.

At recent meetings, a few residents have suggested that the city close one of the ice rinks to save money rather than laying off workers. Scirocco said Friday that the ice rinks almost pay for themselves.

“The ice skating rinks, for the most part, are supported by end users.”

Also, the city is working to be even more energy efficient at the rinks through an energy audit with Johnson Controls, he added.

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