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Saratoga Springs mayor promises fight against racino hours

Saratoga Springs mayor promises fight against racino hours

City leaders will fight the proposed expansion of hours at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway a year aft

City leaders will fight the proposed expansion of hours at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway a year after the state pulled millions of dollars in aid given to the city for hosting the racino.

In his State of the City address Tuesday evening, Mayor Scott Johnson said the city will oppose the proposal included in Gov. David A. Paterson’s 2010-11 executive budget.

“Saratoga Springs will take all available measures to both oppose and, if passed, not comply with the proposed expansion,” Johnson said.

Current state law limits racinos to 16 hours a day of operation ending no later than 2 a.m. Paterson has proposed lifting those rules, which would effectively allow the slot machines to operate 24 hours a day.

For his own initiatives, Johnson proposed adding a private option to the building permit process, allowing people to pay a private firm to expedite their building permit application.

He said property owners in the city wait longer than those in nearby towns for building permits, something that needs to change if Saratoga Springs wants to see its share of the growth from the planned GlobalFoundries plant in Malta.

The mayor, who oversees the building department, would like to develop an approved list of architects and engineers whom property owners can hire to sign off on their building applications. The process would not be available for projects that need review by the city land use boards.

Applicants would bear the additional cost of the private engineers and still pay the city’s permit fees, Johnson said.

But Democrats who oppose Johnson said the mayor increased the burden on the building department by firing building inspector Lauritz Rasmussen last year and not replacing him.

Rasmussen took the place of Michael Biffer, the longtime building inspector who retired in 2008.

Rasmussen said he was fired because he questioned the quality of materials for Johnson’s pet project, the indoor recreation center, but Johnson said the building inspector hadn’t done his job.

“I think it’s a slippery slope without a building inspector,” said Democrat Nancy Goldberg.

Municipalities have impartial building inspectors on the payroll who can’t be paid off by developers or otherwise influenced, she noted.

Johnson defended his negotiations with city unions, two of which declared impasses last year.

“As I’ve often said, the stakes are too high to be impatient by rushing to resolutions that ultimately do not serve the public.”

Those unions have criticized his negotiations as dragging and unyielding.

He urged cooperation, a theme of Johnson’s since he first ran for office in 2007.

“In these difficult times, more than ever it’s critical that we keep politics out of government,” Johnson said. “With our new council, we are positioned to better serve the community and finally end the politics of dissension.”

Yet the Republican criticized state Democratic leaders, an irony that wasn’t lost on some Democrats in the audience.

“The change in political power in Albany hasn’t served us well,” Johnson said.

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