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Watertown’s finances looking up in proposed 2021-22 city budget

Watertown City Hall
Watertown City Hall(WWNY)
Updated: Apr. 26, 2021 at 2:03 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - When Watertown officials were drafting the city’s budget a year ago, they were facing rapidly falling sales tax revenues, less state aid, and an uncertain financial future because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now, city manager Kenneth Mix says, “the financial picture for the upcoming fiscal year is much better.”

The city released Monday morning Mix’s budget proposal for the 2021-2022 fiscal year that starts July 1.

The city council will begin reviewing the budget on May 10.

Mix says he’s projecting nearly $20 million in sales tax receipts for next year, which is $3.25 million more than in this year’s budget.

That increase is adding to the city’s fund balance, which is essentially a savings account. $1 million of that savings is factored into the proposed budget.

Also, Mix said, state aid is expected to start flowing again and most of what was withheld last year will be restored.

One thing that hasn’t changed from a year ago is what the city should do to avoid a “fiscal cliff” that may be caused by the end of a hydroelectric contract with National Grid in 2030.

We learned over the weekend that under the proposal the city’s tax rate would increase by 2 percent, although Mix says in his budget summary that the rate should be closer to 4 percent “to avoid the cliff.”

Mix says that without additional income, avoiding the cliff “will have to be done with a steady increase in the property tax levy every year and putting money into reserve funds that can be used after 2030.”

The proposed 2021-2022 budget also restores four police officer positions that were cut last year. Restoring those positions is called for in the city’s recently approved police reform plan.

The budget also restores positions for a deputy fire chief, a librarian, and a maintenance person for the library and city hall that were cut last year.

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