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Charter reform vote nears

Heading into the home stretch before Election Day, supporters and detractors of the referendum to change Saratoga Springs' nearly century-old system of government continue their debate in an effort to sway voters.

Saratoga Springs' government has been commission style since the city was organized in 1915. In this form, a mayor and four commissioners sit as the City Council. Each commissioner also serves as the head of a department running a different city operation.

Under the revised charter, the Department of Public Safety would be eliminated and the mayor would appoint a police chief and a fire chief. All of the other departments would be lumped together, save for the director of finance, who would remain separate, but be renamed comptroller.

Instead of the current five-member council with administrative leaders for each of the city's departments, the new format calls for five council members and a separate seat for the mayor. In the new form of government, the city's representatives to the Saratoga County board of supervisors would also be voting members of the council, increasing the city council to seven members. The mayor would be able to veto council decisions, and the mayoral term would be increased to four years, but council members' term limits would remain two years.

Proponents of the reformed charter, such as planning board chairman Lew Benton, say the current form of government has proven too costly, since it has no checks and balances.

The 1996, all-funds budget was $22.2 million. The 2006, all-funds budget is at $47.7 million. That's a 115 percent increase in spending. The general-funds budget also has doubled to nearly $33 million, Benton said in a written statement.

He went on to say that, despite the increase in spending, Saratogians are still seeing the same problems they did a decade ago. He listed truck traffic, parking and an aging police station as decade-old problems, and cited the need for a public safety station for the lake, a new recreation center, a city center and a water source.

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