Incumbent Democratic Mayor Valerie Keehn faced Republican Scott Johnson and Independent candidate Gordon Boyd at a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Civility, open government and the capital budget specifically, the proposed $17 million public safety facility topped the issues.
On the issue of civility on the Saratoga Springs City Council, Boyd and Johnson said that was one of the reasons they decided to run for office. `I would liken some City Council meetings to a high school food-fight,` said Johnson.
Boyd said the behavior by City Council members as well as members of the public has been `as deplorable as I think I’ve ever seen.`
Both took Keehn to task for cultivating such behavior, saying that, as mayor, she should be better able to control the meetings.
Keehn acknowledged a sense of this when she was asked about the recent walkout by Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim when a vote on the public safety facility didn’t go his way.
`I was as surprised as anyone that that Commissioner Kim left the meeting,` said Keehn. `I don’t advocate that our City Council members leave the meetings, but, on the other hand, I can understand his frustration.`
On the capital budget, Johnson, a 51-year-old retired trial attorney, supported a lease-buyback program for the public safety facility, but he advocated finding alternate revenue streams to decrease the tax burden. He advocated paid parking, possibly for visitors only, with residents having permits.
`’Paid parking’ is a dirty word around here,` said Johnson, but said the city should look into it because the fiscal challenges the city is facing `could change the face of your city and your pocketbook.`
Boyd called the lease-buyback option little more than longer-term debt with higher interest. He proposed using revenue from the video lottery terminals, or VLTs, to build up a capital reserve so the city would not have to bond as much.
Keehn defended her position of relying on VLT money for the duration of a proposed 30-year bond for the public safety building. Boyd and Johnson called the revenue unreliable, as it is dependent on state approval and may be subject to a poverty test. Keehn said she did not believe the law regarding VLT money was more at risk of change than any other law.
Boyd challenged Keehn on the doubling of the city’s bond limit at a time when, Boyd said, the city was otherwise occupied with Keehn’s efforts to change the city’s charter.
Keehn said the bond increase had absolutely nothing to do with charter reform and said the city didn’t have time to go forward with permissive referendum, which would have allowed the public to petition the bond increase.
Johnson leapt at this.
`The issue here isn’t raising the bond limit from 1 to 2 percent. The issue is a very basic one, and that of open government,` he said. `Open government ` what does that mean to you? Does it mean increasing your debt limit two-fold without referendum? Is that good government? Is that good leadership? This is open government in name only.`
Johnson said that although he’s a Republican, he is not an advocate of drawing water from the Hudson River, a plan supported by county Republicans. He did say, however, that the city should be fiscally responsible and not throw `good money after bad` by investing more than $13 million using Saratoga Lake as a water source.
Keehn said she has always supported the lake plan but has been open to all sides of the issue.
Boyd is in favor of the Saratoga Lake plan.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. The mayor of Saratoga Springs receives an annual salary of $14,500. “