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Saratoga Springs mayor urges cooperation in annual address

Saratoga Springs mayor urges cooperation in annual address

Mayor Scott Johnson stressed the need for bipartisanship, a year-round economy and fiscal respons

Mayor Scott Johnson stressed the need for bipartisanship, a year-round economy and fiscal responsibility on Sunday in his second state of the city address as mayor of Saratoga Springs.

In a demonstration of bipartisanship, Johnson, a Republican, was introduced to the roughly 100 politicians and community members gathered at the City Center by Lou Schneider, the former chairman of the city Democratic Committee.

Schneider said he supports the mayor’s need for cooperation and civility.

“I believe he has the best interest of Saratoga regardless of if you believe in his methods,” Schneider said.

While 2008 has left the city with many financial challenges, including the potential loss of $1.9 million in state video lottery terminal revenues, Johnson said being a resort and tourism community will allow Saratoga to be resilient, but not immune, to the state and federal financial crisis.

“Amid diminishing VLT revenue, working together isn’t a recommendation, it’s a requirement,” Johnson said.

Johnson pointed to the 2009 budget, which includes a zero percent increase in property taxes as an example of how his administration works effectively together.

“The unanimous vote shows that we can give and take, compromise and put aside our issues to give Saratogians what they need,” he said.

Johnson pointed to the expansion of the City Center, which he said is “beyond a vision but becoming a reality,” as an example of promoting a year-round economy. Johnson said the expansion would allow the city to remain competitive in the conference and tourism environment.

Johnson pushed for cooperation on the initiative to have paid parking within the city to raise money for future parking and retail space off Broadway. Johnson said the plan would deliver needed services without further burdening property taxpayers. Johnson also pushed for the completion of the proposed $6 million indoor recreation center, which is the subject of a lawsuit involving several property owners. Johnson said the proposed recreation center has already been paid for and said the controversial proposal is still on the table and will continue to be debated.

Johnson defended the project’s proposed location, on Vanderbilt Avenue, and said it is easily accessible to local children by many modes of public transportation.

Johnson also talked about removing the stigma associated with affordable housing projects, which he said has hindered developing more affordable housing units in the city. He pointed to the recent affordable housing complex on Allen Drive as an example of an affordable housing project that works.

“Challenges are an opportunity to create new solutions . . . and confirm that working together is always a viable option,” he said.

Gordon Boyd, a member of the Independence party, said Johnson’s speech was “an excellent speech that took a unified approach to the issues.

“It was thoughtful, balanced and at times courageous with respect to parking and affordable housing,” he said.

Former Mayor Valerie Keehn, a Democrat, said she was “disappointed” in Johnson’s speech. She said Johnson conducts most municipal business behind closed doors and has taken credit for accomplishing things that were begun during her administration.

Former city attorney Peter Tulin, a Democrat, said it was a “comprehensive speech” but disagreed on a few issues, especially regarding how Johnson intends to spend the city’s money.

Tulin said the notion that the indoor recreation center is already paid for is “simply untrue.” He also said the city only has a zero percent tax increase because of excessive use of the city’s fund balance.

“If the mayor is preaching fiscal responsibility, he should lead by example. The only way to save money is by cutting municipal spending by 20 percent,” he said.

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