Council to discuss budget tonight

Watertown Mayor Jeffery Smith. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — City Council members will have one last crack on Monday night at presenting ideas for changes in the proposed $41.9 million budget that carries a 6.65 percent tax rate increase, 23 layoffs and major cuts in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

At the end of Saturday’s marathon session, council members tentatively scheduled a meeting on Tuesday with the remaining department heads about the spending plan.

But now they’ll do that on Monday night, following the regularly scheduled council meeting and then possibly vote on the budget on Tuesday night.

Councilwoman Sarah Compo still would like to get the budget down with no tax increase.

“People cannot take a tax increase. That’s what people are saying,” she said.

Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith said he has some ideas about making changes, but did “not want to let the cat out of the bag.”

Council members went through the parks, police and fire departments and the Flower Memorial Library during a nearly four-hour budget session on Saturday. In their only other budget session, they talked about the water, hydroelectricity and sewer budgets.

Mayor Smith intended to talk on Sunday night individually with council members about priorities and ideas they have for the financial document before presenting them on Monday night.

Depending on what council members tell him on Sunday night, the budget vote would be on Tuesday, he said.

The city is faced with an approximate $2.5 million shortfall in sales tax revenues caused by the coronavirus financial crisis.

Despite the financial dilemma caused by the coronavirus, Councilwoman Compo wants to put some funding back into the budget for the financially-strapped Thompson Park Zoo.

Zoo officials have requested $100,000 from the city to get through the financial issues and remain open.

But Councilwoman Compo said the city cannot afford that amount; she’d support some financial help. The mayor said the zoo is something that still needs to be sorted out.

She doesn’t want to see the zoo closed, adding it would create problems of what to do with the animals and the facility if that ever happened.

The councilwoman is also concerned about two proposed cuts in the IT department, saying it would be “overwhelming because the city is already behind the times” with information technology.

Under the proposed budget, the library would be closed on Sundays and one evening of the week because 1.5 positions will be eliminated.

Under the proposed budget, four new police officers now completing field training would be cut, with one returning after an expected retirement in July.

A vacant engineer technician, a building maintenance and a code enforcement office position are among the other cuts. A receptionist in the engineering office recently retired and won’t be replaced.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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