Watertown’s mayor, city manager have differing views on tax proposal

Updated: Apr. 26, 2021 at 2:21 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - When Watertown’s lucrative hydropower contract will expire in 2030, the city will lose millions of dollars in revenue. To prepare for that loss, City Manager Ken Mix says taxes need to increase now, but Mayor Jeff Smith disagrees.

“I don’t want to see a tax rate increase and that’s going to be my goal to make sure we don’t have one,” said Smith.

The mayor disagrees with the 2 percent tax rate increase in the proposed city budget.

Mix says the city has to prepare for the future when it’s not getting millions of dollars in hydropower revenue.

“I believe there has to be a steady increase. Is the 2 percent that’s proposed in the budget enough? Probably not. It needs to be a little bit more to really get where we need to be,” he said.

Another likely point of debate in this budget will be adding city jobs.

With higher than expected sales tax revenue and full state aid on the way, Mix proposes re-instating 4 police officers, a librarian and a deputy fire chief.

“It gives us an opportunity to put back in the positions so that we can actually get our work done,” said Mix.

But Smith says he’s hesitant to add long-term recurring costs, such as hiring employees, when the city could instead spend money on single stream recycling, a mixed form of recycling Smith has pushed for that is mentioned in the budget.

“How do we minimize our recurring long term costs, and a lot of that is in personnel, and how do we meet that delicate balance of having enough personnel without having too much and that’s the tough part,” said Smith.

But for those departments that would receive added workers like that deputy fire chief, it’s welcomed news.

“It would definitely be a huge benefit to me, to the department, and I believe to the city as a whole if council were to determine to add the deputy chief’s position to the budget,” said Watertown Fire Chief Matt Timerman.

You might be wondering why the city can’t use the $23 million of federal COVID relief funding to avoid the tax rate hike or to hire city employees.

The funding comes with restrictions, which city leaders hope to learn more about in the coming months.

Here’s another way the closing of the Watertown Correctional Facility factors into the economics of the area: with no prison, it’s not using Watertown water. According to the city’s budget plan, that equals $100,000 which is no longer coming in as revenue for the city of Watertown.

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