Monday, June 18, 2012

A bizarre county stat 6/18

A remarkable streak could come to an end during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors.

The 23-member board is expected to vote on whether to charge for-profit emergency medical service providers, like Empire Ambulance, to tap into the county’s 911 dispatch system.

The Board of Supervisors, on a bad year, will review more than 200 resolutions. Virtually all of them are approved unanimously because the county’s lower committees work out the kinks ahead of time.

But supervisors have publicly spoken out on both sides of the fee proposal, so it’s extremely unlikely that a vote on the subject would be unanimous. That would be a rarity in itself, but there could also be enough support to actually vote down the proposal. That is practically like witnessing the Transit of Venus.

The last time the board actually voted down a resolution was Feb. 26, 2008, when supervisors nixed a plan to support an Assembly bill that would have given towns the authority to create a new tax in order to support open space preservation efforts.

Since that date, county lawmakers have not defeated any of the past 1,014 resolutions to come before the full Board of Supervisors. That includes a handful they have tabled and never brought back for a vote, but most of those 1,014 were resolutions were approved.

The county administrator’s office verified the Board hasn’t defeated a resolution since Feb. 2008, but wanted to point out that supervisors have defeated some motions during that time frame. I’ll have more on that in a moment, but I wanted to be fair and say supervisors aren’t rubber stamping things through.

Much of the review and vetting takes place at the committee level so that supervisors have had most of their concerns addressed by the time things get to the boardroom.

They have also had pretty significant discussions at the full board level since that time, including whether to award $570,000 in open space grants (November 2011), increase the population threshold for a second supervisor and accordingly change the size of the board (August 2011), change pay rates for some county employees (March 2011), approve bonds for the Water Authority (August 2008), and authorize the expansion of the Sewer District’s treatment plant (March 2008).

I came aboard in May 2011, but I think that just about covers all of the biggest votes at the county level since 2008. If there was a big discussion to be had, the supervisors had it. Ultimately, though, all those associated resolutions passed.

I couldn’t seem to find a story about one that didn’t pass in our archives – and the supervisors I spoke to couldn’t seem to remember the vote – so the following account is based off the meeting minutes:

The legislation the county was seeking to endorse would have enabled towns to impose a real estate transfer tax, which would have been imposed on a surcharge over the median value of a home. It was proposed to generate funds to conserve open space, particularly in towns like Malta that saw developers buying, selling and subdividing land.

But objectors pointed out if a town were to acquire the property to preserve open space, it would have been removed from the tax rolls. The burden would have then been shifted to other landowners in the county because the county’s tax base would have been unchanged. So basically, if Malta enacted the law, people in Edinburg could have been making up the difference in property taxes.

It was defeated 115,680 to 73,448.

Now, my review looked at resolutions, but the county administrator’s office pointed out the Board of Supervisors has defeated “a number of” motions at Board meetings since 2008. Those include a motion to waive the reading of all resolutions in April, when they had like 30, as well as reconsider open space grant funds in December 2011. 

But those motions had nothing to do with the established committee process. They were things that were presented that day. It's very weird for supervisors to spend a month reviewing something and tweaking it only to vote against it.

“We’re pretty complete in our discussions before it ever gets to the full board,” Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen said. “If it doesn’t make it through Law and Finance, it’s not going to make it to the full board.”

But this time, though, the Law and Finance Committee chose not to nip the proposal in the bud. Officials said it didn't seem right for a seven-member committee to make a decision that could affect the entire county, so any of the debate that would have ordinarily happened at the committee level is now going to happen before the full Board of Supervisors. 

"It's such an issue that they really wanted the supervisors to go home and research it themselves," Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski said. He is one of three supervisors (John Collyer, Dan Lewza) who has never seen the Board of Supervisors vote down a resolution. They all came on after February 2008.

Yepsen, for the record, is voting against the current draft of the proposal. She said it puts too much pressure and risk on the public safety program, noting Empire provides back-up service to the city of Saratoga Springs. Matthew Veitch is away on business and won’t be voting, but his absence is excused, so he won’t be counted as an affirmative. Either way, he’d be voting against it.

One more stat before I go:

1,575 – Days between Feb. 26, 2008, the date of the last defeated resolution, and the Board of Supervisors’ scheduled meeting on June 19, 2012.

Until next time,



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