The special events — from First Night and the Victorian Streetwalk to Hats Off and Final Stretch — that lure close to 100,000 people to downtown Saratoga Springs every year are a gold mine for the city’s merchants, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars or more worth of sales, restaurant meals and hotel stays. They’re also a big deal for the city itself, which skims 1.5 cents of every dollar through the sales tax. Still, the cash-strapped city isn’t satisfied with the arrangement and has decided to make the merchants who benefit from these special events pay for the police overtime associated with them.
So far, there’s only been a little grousing about these fees — perhaps because the assessments have been relatively small: $3,000 for the Hats Off and Final Stretch festivals which mark the beginning and end of the Saratoga racing season and an estimated $4,500 for the Victorian Streetwalk in November. And the merchants realize how important these events are to their bottom lines.
But those who’ve been dunned by Chamber of Commerce President Joe Dalton and the Downtown Business Association have a right to be miffed. The city’s stance on this issue seems absurd.
Financially, the special events are good for everyone. That includes some merchants, both inside the city as well as outside it, who aren’t chipping in but who are still benefiting, as well as taxpayers whose property taxes are mitigated by the spike in sales tax revenues. So why make the downtown restaurants, bars and hotels solely responsible for this burden? They’re taxpayers, too.
Admittedly, the city is in tough shape financially, and its refusal to install parking meters downtown — which most merchants oppose — has blown a large hole in the city’s budget. But nickel-and-diming merchants in this fashion not only seems unfair to them, it’s setting a dangerous precedent for the way future shortfalls are addressed.