Questioning if Watertown City Charter was followed after a refund was issued to a resident

Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 5:30 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Watertown City Council will likely fix a mistake Tuesday night after City Manager Ken Mix refunded thousands of dollars to a city resident.

At least one council member argues the decision Mix made wasn’t a decision he could make. That it needed a vote from council, and without one, the city didn’t follow its own rule book.

It has to do with 235 Main Avenue, the former Dealmaker Conference Center.

After taxes weren’t paid by Dealmaker, the property went to a tax sale, with Watertown’s Kathleen Burgess acquiring the tax certificate for $37,000.

But in the notification process to mortgage holders, the city made an administrative error. Given the error, Burgess was able to refrain from taking title to the property, which is severely contaminated with mold. City Manager Ken Mix refunded Burgess her money - $37,000.

That’s where the city’s rule book, the Watertown City Charter, was potentially violated.

The charter says, in part, “the council shall refund to the purchaser the money”, meaning a council vote, not a sole decision by the city manager.

Mix doesn’t see it that way.

“As far as we are concerned, we followed and did what was necessary to fix it at the time,” said Mix.

City Council Member Lisa Ruggiero feels a new policy needs to be in place.

“Once this happened, I asked questions. And so I asked, “is there a policy about this when you determine who gets money back.” I was concerned about discrimination, pick and choose who gets their money back. And then I learned Burgess was the only person who have her money refunded to her,” said Ruggiero.

So, will this need a council vote? Ruggiero says it’ll be likely talked about during executive session in Tuesday’s meeting. That’s because there’s litigation.

The property is owned by Dealmaker, that’s PJ Simao. He says he’s suing to make the city follow the charter because he feels this situation was handled differently because he’s the property owner.