Ethics Reform- Day 1

We need to change the pay-to-play culture and backroom dealings in Saratoga Springs city hall. The city is undertaking a $16 million renovation of the historic city hall building, a $5 million rebuilding of Loughberry Lake dam, a proposed $15 million High Rock parking garage, and several major new developments.  With price tags this high, ethics reform and transparency have never been more essential for protecting the interests of the taxpayers.

1. End Lifetime Taxpayer Funded Health Care – I will introduce this motion, “Under no condition shall the Mayor or a council member be entitled to any compensation beyond the end of their elected term.”  After serving 10 years, in a part time position, city council members can receive taxpayer funded health care for life.  Ending lifetime health care will save approximately $1 million that could be used to address more important city priorities that would benefit all Saratogians. 

2. Term Limits –  I will introduce a motion to impose term limits after 12 years.  Thomas Jefferson said,  “By throwing the rascals out from time to time, they will remind government that it exists to serve us — not the other way around.”

3. Independent Audits -Currently, the Finance Department audits itself.  With a $47 million city budget, independent audits could save taxpayer money by identifying fraud, waste, and abuse and corruption. 

4. Enforce §13-4 B of the Ethics Code – City employees listed in §13-4 B of the ethics code are required to file annual disclosure forms by February 15 each year.  However, enforcement is lax.  The Energy Now Consultants LLC contracting scandal with Independent Party Chair Eddy Miller is only the tip of the iceberg. We must know if those voting on contracts stand to gain financially.

5. Nepotism Disclosure Bill – We should be hiring the best people for city jobs, not the most politically connected.  City council members must disclose if the city is hiring a family members, campaign officials, or campaign contributors.Transparency Avoids Lawsuits.

  1. No Campaign Contributions From Big Developers.  I won’t take campaign contributions from big developers.  If a city council member holds a fundraiser at the hospital’s attorney house and refuses to recuse herself before voting on the hospital development project, it undermines transparency and integrity in government.

The Morrison 5 Point Plan for Collecting the $2.7 Million in Unpaid Back Taxes.

Saratoga Springs city government is owed $2.7 million in unpaid back taxes on 163 properties.  Unpaid taxes affect all citizens and are not a partisan issue.   I pay my taxes every year.  Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” 

My opponent does not know how much back taxes the city is owed and believes collecting back taxes is difficult and expensive.   I believe we can do better.  My 5 point plan is below:

1. Greater Transparency about the businesses and individuals with significant unpaid taxes.  The City website should include the names, addresses and back taxes and penalties owed to the city.

2. No City Contracts. Any business or individual who owes back taxes for the city. 

3. No City Services. Any developer, individual, or business cannot have their case heard by a land use board unless they have paid all of their back taxes.  Individuals who owe back taxes cannot serve on any city board until they pay the city what they owe.

4. Prioritize Foreclosure Proceedings. Absentee and out of town landlords and businesses and individuals with unpaid taxes that predate 2012 should be made a priority. Out of town landlords owe almost $600,000 to the city. 

5. Adopt Best Practices. By consulting with the ICMA, the leading national municipal reform organization, our city could easily follow established and proven practices to our benefit. It has a national network of city managers about how Saratoga Springs can collect more unpaid and shadow taxes.  Tax collection has become more difficult in the Internet age, and we need to meet those challenges and adopt best practices in tax collection. 

The Sustainability Agenda

1. A Saratoga 2020 Open Space Bond- In 2002, Saratoga Springs voters passed a $5 million Open Space Bond with 74% approval. The funding paid for the Spring Run Trail, the Saratoga Lake Waterfront Park, Kaydeross Creek kayak launch, and Pitney Meadows Community Farm.  These community investments have dramatically improved the quality of life in the city, preserved the city in the country, and improved economic growth for the city.  I will call for the creation of a Saratoga 2020 Open Space Task Force to create a new Open Space Bond.

2. No 600 car single use parking garage at High Rock parking lot. It’s a terrible use of city resources.

On the Issues

Quality of life is what makes Saratoga Springs special. As your Commissioner of Finance, I will protect our quality of life through initiatives that:

  • Protect green open space and promote smart growth.
  • Generate revenue through projects that align with our community priorities.
  • Build infrastructure for the future, so that every resident has access to technology, transportation, a clean environment, and safe drinking water.
  • Make Saratoga affordable for young families and low income households. 
  • Create a community dialogue with diverse perspectives.
  • Ensure transparency and public engagement in city governance.

Smart Growth and Infrastructure

Smart City goals are an essential part of the future of Saratoga Springs. But they require prudent decision-making. My opponent recently signed a 30-year contract with SiFi Networks to construct a citywide fiber optic network. On the surface, that sounds like a good decision. However, the reality is more complicated.

Michael Santorelli, the director of the Advanced Communication Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School, says SiFi has never completed a project at this scale anywhere in the nation. Santorelli noted that “duration also makes the SiFi contract with Saratoga Springs ‘unique,’ because “long-term technology agreements become outdated pretty quickly” (https://www.timesunion.com-fiber-networks.php).

Kenneth Pokalsky, Vice President of the Business Council of New York, shares Santorelli’s opinion, and says the agreement raises “serious concerns.” Pokalsky points out that a 30-year contract is double the period allowed by law for cable franchises, and there are additional risks. Specifically, “If the project fails, city taxpayers will have to bail out the developer for its expenses plus a 10 percent ‘profit’ … and the city waives all its rights if the company files for bankruptcy.(https://www.saratogian.com/FiberOptics)

Even if successful, the city would potentially be locked in for sixty years, because renewal is at the discretion of the company. The rate of change in technology means that Saratoga Springs could be stuck with outdated infrastructure for decades.

Economic justice and employment opportunities

Economic justice means using the power of government to promote a fair and just society. The Times Union has reported that Saratoga County has the third highest level of economic inequality in New York State, and 28th highest in the nation (https://www.timesunion.com-income.php). My opponent cites the construction of 3 new affordable homes during her eight-year tenure as evidence of her work on affordable housing. Yet last year, CAPTAIN Community Service identified 664 homeless children in Saratoga County (https://timesunion.com-income.php). As Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted makes clear, lack of stable housing has a tremendous negative effect on a family’s economic prospects as well as the well-being of their children. The city needs a more proactive approach to housing stability.

Disparities can also be seen in the schools, where nearly every district tracked by the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES has seen an uptick in students eligible for free or reduced lunches. In Saratoga Springs, 22 percent of school-age children are eligible. Eight years ago, it was 14 percent (https://www.timesunion-income.php).

More broadly, I am concerned about the loss of economic diversity in Saratoga Springs. As we lose that diversity, we lose part of what makes a city special. I am committed to working towards workforce housing and inclusionary zoning – advocated for by Sustainable Saratoga – so that residents from all income brackets are able to call Saratoga Springs home.

Environment and Climate Change

Saratoga Springs should be a leader in the local climate change and clean energy movement. We were an early signer of Climate Smart Communities Pledge and an adopter of community solar. We need to rebuild momentum on projects that have stalled, including the Greenbelt Trail and Geyser Crest Trail, bike lanes, and complete streets. Though the Complete Streets, Greenbelt Trail and Open Space plans were all adopted unanimously by the City Council, they have stalled in implementation. In addition, the city needs a new open space bond – a referendum to set aside funding for parks, trails and related initiatives. We have not had an open space bond act on the ballot since 2002, and the $5 million bonding authority has been depleted. With the current pace of development, the city must be proactive in preserving the character of the city, and establish another open space bond.

One of my opponent’s priority projects is a 600-car single-use parking garage behind city hall. The current design does not include multiple use space that could generate revenue for the city, enrich our streetscape and diversify our business community. Other cities have abandoned this single use model and moved toward first floor retail or other types of multi-use structure, including flexible parking structures that can easily convert to housing or office space as parking demand changes in the future. The proposed parking garage in Saratoga Springs represents an outdated view of city planning and architectural design.

There is a critical need for a recycling plan for downtown streets – we cannot be a leader when we lack recycling bins on Broadway and in our public parks. 

I will advocate to prioritize the Climate Smart Task Force that has been very quiet in the past 2 years. The Climate Smart program offers participating communities resources, training and tools to improve their resilience in managing a changing climate. I will work with local environmental groups and businesses, and take full advantage of New York State’s many funding opportunities so that we can reduce our carbon emissions and pave the way for a more sustainable community.

Immigration, ICE & Sanctuary Cities

I will work together with clergy, police and businesses to make our city welcoming and inclusive for all families. Last July, ICE performed a series of immigrant raids that, together with federal immigration policies, had a negative impact local businesses and generated fear among many residents. Our local economy relies on the hard work of immigrants from around the world, and we must continue to protect the human rights of every member of this community. I support re-activating the city’s Human Rights Task Force to support this effort.