Watertown could face $9M budget deficit in 2027

Published: May. 3, 2023 at 5:26 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Numbers are out for the proposed Watertown city budget. This coming year may be okay, but it looks like trouble down the road.

For the 2023 - 2024 fiscal year, the city’s proposed budget is $54.5 million, with $2 million dollars pulled from its fund balance, or savings account.

It’ll also raise taxes by 2 percent on property owners. Water and sewer rates would go up too, something that hasn’t happened in the past few years.

“We’re being faced with a possible 10 percent increase in the water and sewer rates, so that’s what happens when you delay gradual increases,” said City Manager Ken Mix.

The budget also shows where Watertown’s finances will be in 5 years.

“Right now we’ve got about $20 million in fund balance. I’m expecting that will be going down to offset some of the deficits,” said Mix.

The numbers show it’s not just expected to be going down. It shows that $20 million will be gone by 2026.

By the 2027-28 fiscal year, Watertown is facing a $9 million budget gap.

Mix says to avoid falling into such dire straights, Watertown needs to match its expenses to the current revenue it brings in through property tax, sales tax, and hydropower - meaning staying within its means.

“If we can cover the day-to-day expenses from those programs, those revenue sources, we will be in okay shape,” said Mix.

Mayoral candidates weighed in on the city’s upcoming proposed budget, and on projections on budgets in the years to come.

“Even though those are projections, I’m sure that we can find a way to help increase our revenue, whether it’s through sales tax or economic development,” said Lisa Ruggiero.

She also wants to reevaluate vacant jobs and see whether or not they should get filled.

Meanwhile, Sarah Compo Pierce says the city needs to cut back on its spending.

“It reinforces the need to be fiscally responsible, how are we spending our money. Are we making good decisions on things that are necessary for everyday life in the city? Are we spending money on infrastructure or are we spending money on things like golf courses for $3.4 million,” she said.

The city paid cash for the golf course. It’s other debt that is factored into Mix’s budget like the city is still paying down the debt on the municipal arena.

But there are new costs coming up like a new Department of Public Works facility, road projects, water and sewer upgrades, a new city courtroom, and renovations to city hall.

They’re millions and millions of dollars worth of projects that the city will need to borrow now and pay for in the future.