Watertown’s mayor, business association at odds over special tax

WWNY Watertown’s mayor, business association at odds over special tax

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Watertown’s mayor has reservations about bringing a Business Improvement District to downtown.

It’s the need for a new city fee to fund things like beautification projects that has the mayor hesitant.

It’s full steam ahead for the Watertown Downtown Business Association as it puts together its plan for a Business Improvement District, or BID.

“We’re looking to go before the city council in March. March 8 is our goal date to get in front of them and show them the plan,” said Watertown DBA President Joseph Wessner.

But the group could be facing some resistance. The goal of a BID is to help improve and ultimately attract people to downtown.

It would launch beautification projects and increased marketing.

But that takes money. To pay for it, the district would ask the city to impose a special tax on businesses within the district.

Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith says that’s what he’s not comfortable with.

“That concept’s a good concept. But, it should be done by the business owners themselves and government shouldn’t get involved to be taxing people,” he said.

According to Wessner, the BID’S annual budget would be $194,000.

People not paying into the budget is the other sticking point for the mayor. Smith says it leaves the door open for the city to take property.

“If they don’t pay this BID tax, it’s like any other tax. They can lose their property,” he said.

But Wessner says he’s never heard of that happening.

“In fact, when I’ve asked other BID managers about it, they’ve been surprised that that question would even come up,” he said.

While Smith argues business owners could form their own group without government involved, Wessner says it’s important to have the city as a partner to ensure money is available and allow city departments to help get projects done.

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