With loss of sales tax, Watertown’s mayor sees tough budget year

WWNY With loss of sales tax, Watertown’s mayor sees tough budget year

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The coronavirus outbreak is attacking Watertown's chief source of revenue - sales tax. Mayor Jeff Smith is telling residents, when it comes to Watertown doing business, the city is going to have to change.

There's no question Watertown's Public Square has gotten quiet. With the global coronavirus pandemic, most storefronts on the square are now closed. So, what does all of this mean for the city's economy?

"If this continues through April and people aren't back to work and the economy is still stagnant, this is going to be a tougher recovery," said Smith.

Smith says sales tax revenue alone makes up for $19 million of the city's overall $45 million budget.

With that in mind, Smith says city council will have to make cuts.

"Bare bones, which the city budget is pretty much bare bones. But, really cutting back and just getting through this crisis and making sure that the taxpayer isn't crushed," he said.

And the city is looking for ways to save, like with garbage pickup, trimming library hours and scrapping the city's sidewalk replacement program, where residents could see an expensive bill.

"Even $1,000, even $500, or hiring a contractor, we're looking at both ways - save the city money and save the taxpayer money," said Smith.

If things get dire, Smith says the city may have to look at layoffs.

In tough times, Smith says a healthy fund balance, or savings account, prepares Watertown for these circumstances. He wishes the previous council didn't spend $1.5 million in cash on the Thompson Park pool and bathhouse project.

"We were smart in putting money away for the rainy day, for an emergency. Here it is. So when everybody questioned and said you had too much or thought we had too much, no, we don't," said Smith.

And what about the city's second courtroom? Smith says he can't see the state demanding it be built now given the financial turmoil that lies ahead.

"I don't know how the state can come back on this city and say not only is this city deficient in terms of revenue, your taxpayers are hurting. By the way, we're gonna dump $3 million on a court project that, in my opinion and in all evidence, isn't needed," he said.

This is budget time, Smith says the city manager is putting together a spending plan now and it’ll be up to all council members to make difficult choices on what’s in and what’s out at a time when the city revenues are likely to come up short.

Copyright 2020 WWNY. All rights reserved.