The financial challenges confronting the city of Watertown will require a mayor who firmly understands these issues and has feasible plans to address them.
Of the candidates seeking this position, former Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith is the best choice. He has extensive experience in city government. This gives him a solid background on the problems facing Watertown, which guides his proposals for addressing these concerns.
The city will experience a substantial loss of revenue in 2030 once its hydroelectric contract with National Grid expires. There has been a lot of discussion about this pending financial cliff, but there hasn’t been much action.
Watertown now receives about $4 million a year in revenue, which is foolishly placed in the city’s general fund to plug budget holes. Officials need a feasible plan for how to wean the city off of this money — which will eventually increase to about $6 million annually.
Mr. Smith has for years been talking about how the city can avoid falling off this cliff. He agrees with other candidates that a group of authorities should be brought together to examine the best way to proceed. He also advocated putting aside any money in excess of $4 million in hydroelectric revenue.
He was one of the first City Council members to call for exerting greater control over Fire Department expenses. Mr. Smith saw the financial problem with a department that had so many firefighters, and he knew how much resistance there would be to making the necessary changes to slow the rate of growth in personnel expenses.
Mr. Smith also understands that Watertown got a raw deal in 2013 when state officials demanded that a second city judge be hired, requiring the construction of a second city courtroom. This will cost several million dollars.
The process called for representatives of Watertown to be consulted before any decisions were made, but that never happened. It’s a mystery how the city ended up on a list of municipalities requiring two judges.
Mr. Smith knows there are other spaces that could be used for a second courtroom — there’s a vacant courtroom in the Dulles State Office Building. Before waving the white flag, he wants to press this issue with state authorities to see if some accommodations could be made. He realizes there is a limit to how much the city can push back before potentially losing state revenue, but he wants to see if negotiations can produce more favorable results.
After nearly four years on the council, Cody J. Horbacz believes he’s ready to lead the city as mayor. But he doesn’t appear to have absorbed any additional insights into municipal finances or operations.
Despite pledging not to support any project exceeding $2.4 million, Mr. Horbacz approved constructing a new bathhouse and pool at Thompson Park for at least $3.1 million. He believes using $2.9 million from the fund balance is a good idea.
He insists that most residents want this project to go forward, but he has never produced any concrete evidence of this. He disturbingly conflates opposing his personal ambition with thwarting “the will of the people.”
Allison I. Crossman has real potential to be an effective community leader in the near future. She has a good grasp of city issues as well as experience running a business. She needs seasoning in local politics, though, and we encourage her to continue her involvement in civic affairs.
While he won’t appear on the ballot for the general election, Clifford G. Olney III has mounted a write-in campaign for mayor. Admittedly, we have previously taken issue with some of his ideas.
But Mr. Olney has intense passion for Watertown’s betterment, and city officials should take advantage of his demonstrated creativity. We would be well served if he had a seat at the table when crafting various policies.
Much is riding on the results of the Nov. 5 election. We urge voters to support Mr. Smith for mayor to ensure the best leadership going forward.