Cuomo signs bill that saves Watertown $3M on building a courtroom

Home rule bill signed

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Watertown won’t have to spend $3 million to build a new city courtroom.

That’s because Governor Cuomo signed a bill that reduces the number of full-time Watertown city judges.

State Assemblyman Mark Walczyk and State Senator Patty Ritchie, who co-sponsored the legislation, made the announcement Tuesday.

The measure cuts two full-time city court judges to one full-time and one part-time judge.

The purpose of the legislation is to save the city from building a proposed $3 million courtroom to house a mandated second judge.

In 2014, the number of judges increased to two full-time positions.

The city neither asked for the change, nor was the increase recommended by the state.

With this bill now law, Watertown taxpayers will not have to pick up the tab for a roughly $3 million courtroom that would have accommodated the second full-time judge.

According to Walczyk, taxpayers will each save roughly $375 by not having to pick up the tab of a new courtroom.

“The taxpayers in the City of Watertown are the real winners here,” said Walczyk (R. - 116th District). “Local governments are trying to stretch every dollar to serve the people so asking Watertown residents to foot the bill for a new, multimillion-dollar courtroom while the economy is still recovering from the COVID pandemic was in poor taste. I thank Governor Cuomo for exercising common sense and signing our proposal into law. This was the right thing and I’m glad to see that practicality has prevailed.”

“The signing of this bill is a tremendous win for the City of Watertown, and its taxpayers,” said Senator Patty Ritchie (R. - 48th District). “I am grateful to Governor Cuomo for recognizing the need to provide Watertown with relief from this costly unfunded mandate. In addition, I would like to thank Assemblyman Walczyk and Mayor Jeff Smith for partnering with me on this important effort to spare hardworking Watertown taxpayers from an unnecessary, $3 million second city courtroom.”

The bill passed both the Assembly and Senate earlier this year.

Mayor Jeff Smith issued the following statement:

“When I ran for mayor, one of the biggest pledges I made was to do everything in my power to stand up for taxpayers and fight back against a multimillion dollar, state-mandated, second city courtroom. This issue—and its high cost—was discussed by mayors before me, but no one had yet raised the possibility of calling on our state legislators to introduce “home rule” legislation and relieve us of this burden.

It was just a year ago that the City of Watertown was still poised to move forward with plans for a second city courtroom. After taking office, my colleagues and I pressed the pause button and moved forward with enlisting the help of our state legislators in the fight against this costly unfunded mandate.

Fast forward to today, and I am extraordinarily grateful that we did. Thanks to the efforts of State Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, the City will no longer be required to construct a $3 million, second city courtroom.

On the campaign trail, my opponents repeatedly voiced support for moving ahead with this project. After legislation to do away with a second city courtroom was introduced, right up until recently, many said this bill becoming law was a longshot and that it would never happen.

I am glad we persevered and together, did what many said was impossible. On behalf of Watertown City Council, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Senator Ritchie and Assemblyman Walczyk for partnering with the City on this issue and advocating tirelessly for passage of this bill. I would also like to express my appreciation to Governor Cuomo for signing this measure into law.

Local governments are under immense pressure to make ends meet—especially now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am thrilled that together, we were able to deliver real relief to the hardworking taxpayers of our City.”

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