Watertown city manager proposes small tax increase in budget

May 1—WATERTOWN — After receiving the financial document over the weekend, City Council members will start deliberating on Thursday the proposed city budget that carries a 1.99 percent tax rate increase.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix proposes a $54,524,373 financial package for 2023-24 that's similar to this year's budget, he wrote in his budget message.

The 1.99 percent tax rate increase would mean an $8.7871 per $1,000 of assessed valuation will go to $8.9618. For a property assessed at $100,000, taxes would increase from $878.71 to $896.81, or $18.10.

The spending plan was released to the public on Monday.

Mr. Mix wrote that it's a good idea to raise taxes a little bit each year, saying it's a balance act to "keep costs down, while considering future impacts and providing enough resources to complete all the desired present tasks."

The first budget session is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday.

At the request of Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith, council members and the mayor's position would receive $3,000 pay increases, starting on Jan. 1.

A council pay raise was briefly discussed last year, but council members backed off on the proposal.

Mayor Smith pointed out that the council pay raise won't pertain to him since he's not running for reelection.

But Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggerio thinks council should hold off on it again until next year.

"He chastised us last year for even discussing it," she said, adding "it's an election year" and the next council should decide it.

Calling it "a healthy cushion," Mr. Mix's spending plan includes $2 million from the city's $20 million fund balance. He stressed in his budget summary that $11 million is needed for cash flow.

He has more concern for the water and sewer budgets.

Citing they have not been increased in five years, Mr. Mix proposes 10% increases to the water and sewer budgets, noting that their fund balances are not as healthy the general fund's.

Mayor Smith, who has briefly reviewed the financial document, said he continues to worry about future budget years, echoing his concerns with the city spending $3.4 million on purchasing the Watertown Golf Club earlier this year.

"My concern is for city taxpayers and always has been," he said, adding that the money spent on the golf course should have been used on sewer and water projects.

Just diving into the budget document, Councilman Patrick J. Hickey said he was happy to see that the city manager appropriated $3,840 on tablets for council members to use so that they don't receive big packets of information for council meetings.

His idea also was discussed last year, but was left out of this budget.

"I don't see nothing earth shattering in the budget so far," he said.

The tax levy would increase $335,000, or 3.43%.

Unlike last year when 24 new positions were proposed through federal funding, personnel changes are minimal in Mr. Mix's spending plan this year.

He's proposes adding two additional bus drivers needed for new CitiBus routes and a pair of tree trimmers to increase a city program to maintain its tree inventory.

A city safety officer position was eliminated in the proposed budget because the city has not been able to fill the position. The city will continue to use a consultant instead.

Management salaries would increase by 3.75%.

Council members plan to discuss 10 departments during Thursday's budget workshop. They include city assessor, comptroller, city clerk, engineering, code enforcement, IT, purchasing, city manager, mayor and council budgets.

Four other budget sessions have been scheduled over the next few weeks.