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Saratoga Springs City Council still tweaking budget

As expected, the City of Saratoga Springs will be going down to the wire in submitting a budget for 2009, if it makes the Nov. 30 deadline at all. And it looks like the cuts that were dodged just weeks ago are back in force.

Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins presented another amended budget at a Monday, Nov. 24, workshop that takes into account a proposed 50 percent (or $1.9 million) reduction in video lottery terminal aid from the state. He made up for the expected shortfall by making across-the-board cuts, dipping into the city's reserve fund and pushing back capital projects.

If the budget is approved, citizens will face a 3.5 percent property tax hike to $5.55 per $1,000 of assessed value. A $200,000 house would pay $1,110 in taxes under the proposal.

Ivins described this year's budget process as a roller coaster. When the city first faced extensive cuts, relief came in the form of a DEC grant for the "Energy to Ice" program. When Gov. David Paterson threatened to cut VLT aid as part of his plan to shore up the state deficit, the city spiraled back past square one.

The City Council traveled to Albany several times last week, and met with Paterson's budget team on Monday. With each trip, though, retaining the full $3.8 million VLT aid seemed less likely.

"I wasn't optimistic walking out of that meeting that we'll get it back," said Ivins of Monday's discussions.

He responded by halving the outlook for VLT aid and cutting $1.5 million from the amended budget. In addition, sales tax and mortgage tax estimates were trimmed to reflect more recent, and more dismal, predictions.

The cuts mean that the Department of Public Works will see its general labor pool shrink, and that empty positions across the city are not likely to be filled. Ivins presented a resolution for a 2009 hiring freeze, which would only allow departments to fill vacated positions after a majority vote of the council. The council did not vote on the measure Monday.

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