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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Watchdog journalism a community effort

Tonight the Saratoga Springs City Council is expected to wrap up a 2011 budget, one way or another. At The Saratogian, we are talking budgets, too. At 8 a.m. this morning, the publisher, ad director, circulation director and I talked with our corporate bosses about our plans for content and revenue for the months ahead -- and the focus of course is on growing our digital audience even faster than it Is growing now.

Whatever strategies we use to draw readers, there's only one thing that will keep them coming back: Good content. A big part of that, I believe, is watchdog journalism, holding our officials and institutions accountable. Even the smallest news organizations can do it -- but it isn't fast or easy. However, with your help, readers, we can do a lot.

Share your ideas, issues, photos and videos -- you are the eyes and ears of the community. The other day a reader sent photos of DPW trucks asking why there were so many if the commissioner was saying there was only one on the road. We looked into it and got an answer, and responded; in this case the commissioner misspoke or was misunderstood. Still, it was a heads up move by the reader and worth the time to pursue.

Keep 'em coming.


5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a story, Saratoga County Youth Court was just shelved due to budget cuts, according to the email sent to my daughter, who has served for 3 years in this terrific community peer effort.

November 30, 2010 at 8:20 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why the reluctance of the Saratogian to investigate why the President of the CSEA is also the individual who puts develops the budget for the DPW???? It was right out in the open when she was called to the microphone to assist the Commissioner with soem questions on the budget.

December 1, 2010 at 7:05 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are a few thoughts on the mayor's 2011 Recreation Budget.

• The mayor's Recreation Department budget significantly over estimates anticipated Indoor Recreation facility revenue. There is no basis in fact or experience to justify an anticipated $194,803 revenue in 2011. This revenue appears to be significantly overstated and should be reduced by at least half. Once a full year of operational revenue is in hand a more accurate forecast can be budgeted forr 2012. In the interim, inflating anticipated revenues will only result in larger deficits.

The mayor has recently stated that he anticipates a 2 to 3 year period before Indoor Recreation revenues begin to approach operating costs (see Nov. 21 “Gazette” story). Why, then is he budgeting MORE in revenue ($193,803) than the facility’s proposed 2011 operating budget ($184,337)?

• This revenue ($193,803) in the proposed budget is significantly more than the $166,500 referenced by the deputy mayor in a November 21 “Gazette” story. Why?

• There is a $6,000 “Field Fee” revenue. This represents an increase of 100% over 2010. To date less than $900 has been realized. Unless these “fees” are primary generated at Geyser Road Park they will not be forthcoming once the operation of the East and West side fields are returned to the School District.

• Why the discrepancy between Ivins’ statement to the Task Force that $70,000 in Recreation labor costs would result from the City’s abandonment of the East and West side fields and ONLY a approximately $25,000 reduction shown in the proposed budget?

• The proposed budget anticipates $102,000 in “Rec. Fees.” This is 7.3% more than the $95,000 budgeted for 2010; 24.4% more than projected ($82,000) for 2010; and 34% more than realized in 2009.

• The “Summer Program” revenue for 2011 is $140,000. However, ONLY $98,000 was realized this year. Is $140,000, or $42,000 more than received this year realistic?

• “Clinic Fees” have been increased from $31,000 this year to $52,000 in 2011. Is a 68% INCREASE realistic?

Here are a few questions and observations that might be worth pursuing.

“What specific instrument did finance use to come up with anticipated indoor recreation facility revenues of nearly $195,000 in 2011? Has a fee and facility utilization schedule been prepared and adopted that would justify such a revenue projection? If not, why not?

Everything over and above that must come from the real property tax.”

You will all recall that Johnson and Ivins have budgeted $194,803 in 2011 “Indoor Recreation Facility revenue.” This is more than $16,000/month or $554/day. In Sunday’s edition of the “Gazette,” however, the deputy mayor references $166.500 in anticipated 2011 revenue. Which number is correct?

The 2010 “adopted” budget carried an $87,800 Indoor Rec. Facility revenue. This was reduced to $34,400 at some point during the year. By year’s end it is doubtful that the facility will generate even $15,000 or $20,000. To go from a half-year operational revenue of maybe $15,000 or $20,000 to a full year operational revenue of $194,803 is simply unbelievable. Even half that amount is probably overly optimistic.

The proposed budget anticipates $102,000 in “Rec. Fees.” This is 7.3% more than the $95,000 budgeted for 2010; 24.4% more than projected ($82,000) for 2010; and 34% more than realized in 2009.

The “Summer Program” revenue for 2011 is $140,000. However, ONLY $98,000 was realized this year. Is $140,000, or $42,000 more than received this year realistic?

“Clinic Fees” have been increased from $31,000 this year to $52,000 in 2011. Again, is a 68

Everything over and above that must come from the real property tax.

December 10, 2010 at 5:55 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“New Hires”

The Council has done a good job sheltering the $269,000 plus benefits cost of “new hires” in the 2011 budget. There has been silence on this subject.

If there had been a public discussion of the rationale for these titles to be filled in 2011 the community might have been better served.

Why not do a piece on these jobs and the impact they will have on the tax rate.

Ivins is forever complaining about the cost of personnel but then turns a blind eye when the opportunity presents to reduce the City payroll through attrition.

December 11, 2010 at 10:45 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbara,

How about looking at the several East and West Side rec. "improvements" that were installed by the City using bond proceeds. The skate park for example and the renovations to the wading pools.

The City taxpayers are still paying the debt service on these and now the City Council abandons all of it. Far to little analysis of all this and its effect.

December 14, 2010 at 10:30 AM 

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