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Public asked for help with Saratoga Springs budget

Public asked for help with Saratoga Springs budget

City officials want taxpayers’ input on how officials should construct a budget since the city co

City officials want taxpayers’ input on how officials should construct a budget since the city could lose 5 percent of its 2009 operating revenue.

Officials lobbied state lawmakers for three hours Monday and held a Tuesday press conference in Albany to make it clear they aren’t going to give up half the revenue from video lottery terminals (VLTs) quietly.

Gov. David Paterson has proposed $5 billion in state budget cuts to deal with a state budget deficit, including cutting host communities’ VLT revenue in half in 2009-10.

For Saratoga Springs, which hosts Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, that would mean a $1.9 million loss next year; Saratoga County would lose about $550,000 in revenue.

City and county officials presented a united front in Albany, meeting with Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, and Sen.-elect Roy McDonald, R-Wilton, as well as staffers from the offices of other state lawmakers.

“Most of them basically said that it’s too early for the ’09 stuff,” said Ken Ivins, city commissioner of finance. “We probably won’t have any real answers before April of next year.”

That means the entire $3.8 million in VLT money could still be available to the city, or that it could be sliced halfway through next year, long after the city has finalized its budget.

So before city officials make their decision about how to plan for next year, Ivins said he wants input from the public.

“What I’d like to hear from you is what we should do,” he said during a public hearing at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Options include leaving the budget alone as if the city will get the revenue, and changing it later; making spending cuts now to plan for a potential revenue reduction and reinstating the spending if the funding isn’t cut; or a combination of both.

Ivins asked residents to send him an e-mail with comments before Friday through the city’s Web site, www.saratoga-springs.org.

Based on people’s comments, Ivins plans to draft a spending proposal this week that he’ll present to the City Council on Monday evening at a budget workshop.

Ivins said he will ask for a budget vote at the workshop, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers.

The city charter requires the council to approve a budget by the end of November, or Ivins’ original budget that cut several jobs will be automatically on the books.

City officials sounded the alarm this week to lawmakers that the proposed VLT cuts would either mean a cut in services or a double-digit property tax increase, since VLT revenue makes up 10 percent of the city’s $38.5 million budget.

“There is a burden placed on city infrastructure, and especially on city emergency services provided by police and fire departments,” said Ronald Kim, commissioner of public safety. “It is only fair for the state to help pay for those services, and it is only fair for the state to treat all VLT host municipalities equally.”

Yonkers has been exempted from the governor’s proposal to cut the aid, which local officials view as unfair.

“The proposed reduction is essentially a penalty for successfully hosting gaming, and Saratoga rightfully demands its full share,” said Mayor Scott Johnson. “It appears this proposal is yet another unfortunate example of downstate versus upstate interests and political influence in favor of downstate.”

County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen remained optimistic that the state won’t cut the aid. “We have high hopes that our lobbying efforts will pay off,” she said Tuesday. The Legislature would need to pass a new law in order to take the money away, Yepsen said. “Right now we’re hoping that nothing will change as of ‘09.”

She said officials showed lawmakers the amount of money the city and the county pay to host the facilities, and the demographics of the community.

“There’s this misconception that Saratoga is wealthy,” Yepsen said. “We are down there talking real numbers about who lives in this city, what they can afford, and they cannot afford property tax increases.”

At Tuesday’s City council meeting, resident John Kraus suggested the city ask Saratoga County for its share of the VLT revenue if the state cuts both in half.

“We all need to share the pain,” he said. “Don’t burn the taxpayer for this shortfall that we’re talking about.”

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