Youth research

Saratoga officials make changes to benefit board chief

BALLSTON SPA — An increase in the population threshold for representation on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, passed last week, maintains Halfmoon Supervisor Kevin Tollisen as the most powerful supervisor among the county’s 23.

The move, decried by League of Women Voters members and Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston, means Tollisen can retain her status as sole supervisor in her city. Without the change, Tollisen would have had to share his county role with a new second supervisor from his city. He also should have split his weighted vote which in 2011 was set at 21,535, which is higher than any other supervisor, including those at Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs. This will increase this year to match Halfmoon’s actual population, which is now over 25,000.

Board Chairman Todd Kusnierz, a political ally of Tollisen, applauded the 19-to-1 vote in favor of raising the population threshold, which determines the number of supervisors representing a municipality, from 25,000 to 27,500 .

“The recent updates to local law, which come after every census, have the full support of Halfmoon City Council,” Kusnierz said. “There is no doubt that through the actions of their city council and their repeated re-election of Supervisor Tollisen, the people of Halfmoon are pleased with the effective leadership of their local officials.”

Without the change, the oversight board would have had 24 members in 2022, as Halfmoon tipped its population past 25,000.

Tollisen did not respond to a Times Union request for comment. In the past, however, he has stated that he “represents everyone at Halfmoon”.

Gaston, the only supervisor to have voted against the increase in population, is not sure that it is possible.

“The number is very arbitrary,” the Democrat said. “There has been no public debate or analysis on why they chose that number. Why the change? The resolution simply says because we had 23 and we should keep 23. That is not how government should operate, it does not provide proper representation.

She also said a large community should have more than one supervisor who can sit on committees where the majority of decisions for the county are made.

“There are only so many committees a supervisor can sit on and that’s where all the work is done,” she said. “Even when he’s not on a committee, supervisors have to make sure they have Halfmoon’s backing or it won’t go down.”

She also said that there is no weighted voting in committees. Each supervisor gets one vote, which means Day’s supervisor, who runs a town with the lowest population in the county, has as much authority as Halfmoon on any given committee.

Gaston also said she finds it odd that the only people who came out in favor of the raise, in a public hearing on the matter, were Halfmoon employees who work under Tollisen. One of them was city clerk Linda Bryan, who said that in her 11 years with the city she had “seen so many good changes.”

“And I have to thank our supervisor for that,” she said. “I can’t imagine we would need a second supervisor to do better than what we are already doing.”

In 1968, local county law stated that there must be one supervisor for every 12,000 residents. At that time, the county’s population was just over 101,000.

Each time a census is released, the county increases the population threshold so that the number of supervisors can stay the same. The county now has a population of approximately 229,000.

Two members of the League of Women Voters, speaking for themselves and not for the league, criticized the Oversight Council’s appropriation of the population.

“Since the 1970s, the board of supervisors has consistently increased the number of people who will trigger the creation of another supervisor position, because the board wants to keep the number of supervisors at 23,” said Barbara Thomas, member of the league. “Whether it’s really because of the number of seats in this room, or your belief in the optimal size of a legislative body, or an aversion to change, I can’t say. What I can say is that it is not fair and less and less fair with each additional census.

She believes that the whole form of government should be reconsidered.

“I ask Council to drop the bill and instead appoint a commission to propose a new charter for the governance of this county that uses districts of equal population as a basis for representation,” Thomas said. “It will be for the commission to decide the appropriate number of districts and therefore the number of county council members, and to decide whether city supervisors would be eligible to run for county council seats.”

It echoed a position the league had formulated in February 2019.

“We believe the time has come for the board to consider how best to represent the people of this county,” the league statement read. “It’s time to move closer to the ideal of ‘one person, one vote’ by appointing a committee to recommend the most appropriate response to the 2020 census results.”

Gaston thinks the oversight board, which includes 21 Republicans, would not review its structure lest more Democrats be elected. Meanwhile, she said, the many residents who are calling for more affordable housing and the preservation of open spaces are being ignored.

“None of those things are moving forward on the board,” she said. “In my mind, that means we’re not getting that representation. It’s unfortunate.”