Watertown lawmakers disagree over money for homeless

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 5:11 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Who should pay to keep the homeless safe during a historic snowstorm? It’s a question that Watertown City Council will address Monday as one lawmaker looks to find the funding, and another one asks when is enough, enough.

“It’s warm, it’s quiet, we’re well fed. There’s a shower, there’s a bathroom. There’s two bathrooms, one men, one women. So, they’re trying to accommodate everything they can for us,” said Tammy Higby, who’s staying in the temporary warming center on Main Avenue.

The converted body shop might not be the ideal warming center that Jefferson County designed for people without homes. The usage of the building has been a necessity as the north country was pounded over the weekend with several feet of snow.

“I think that we need to step up to the plate as far as the city goes, and not put all the blame on the county or say it’s a county problem,” said city council member Lisa Ruggiero.

She plans on proposing sending $25,000 from the city to Jefferson County in helping with the costs of staffing and supplying the warming center.

“It’s happening right here in the City of Watertown. It’s happening downtown, and I think that the city needs to step up,” she said.

Council members Patrick Hickey and Cliff Olney say they agree and will be voting with Ruggiero.

However, the vote will not be unanimous.

“City taxpayers pay for county programs through their county taxes and I don’t think they should be charged twice for it. I don’t know where the money is going, and there is no, at least to my knowledge, itemized account of what the money is for and to whom,” said Mayor Jeff Smith.

Whether the cost is on the city or the county, county Legislator Scott Gray believes there is a bigger concern to be addressed.

“More importantly, what’s got to happen is that we have to have people in here. We have to have people from the agencies or the county in here to triage all their individual situations,” he said.

The next bit of help for people at the warming center will be a Thanksgiving meal, set to be donated and arrive Thursday.