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Addison asks for council direction on city of Watertown budget

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City Manager Sharon A. Addison got some ideas Tuesday night on how to pursue the 2013-14 budget after discussing a $41,380,000 draft budget with a 34 percent tax hike.

But what Ms. Addison presented to the Watertown City Council is just a starting point and will most certainly change during budget discussions over the next several weeks, stressed Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham.

“It’s a prequel to the upcoming budget process,” he said.

Calling Tuesday night’s hourlong discussion “a useful session,” the mayor asked council members to come back with “some parameters” for Monday night’s meeting for Ms. Addison to use in her proposed budget.

Ms. Addison also said she thought it was a good way to start the budget process.

“I think it was well-received,” she said afterward.

Working on her first city spending plan, she brought council members into the process much earlier than her predecessors.

She said she believed it was a good way to get some ideas from them on how to approach the budget process. Typically, a proposed budget would be presented in mid-April, and that’s when council members would get involved.

As it stands, the city manager would not add any positions and would reduce the Fire Department by two firefighters.

During the discussion, the mayor had some suggestions on how to lower the property taxes.

Mr. Graham said the financial document “does not make any assumptions on fund balance,” stressing if the same $1.6 million were used, it would automatically reduce the tax increase to 12 or 13 percent.

He also suggested property taxes would be reduced further if some capital projects were cut, deferred or bonded, although he did not discuss specific items.

Ms. Addison said she could reduce the budget by $600,000 by cutting such items as survey equipment and security for the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library and holding off on some vehicle purchases.

City officials are worried about how a possible $500,000 jump in state pension expenses will affect the budget. They will need to decide whether to take up Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s offer to lower pension payments now and increase them later. In recent weeks, the mayor has said the “pension smoothing” proposal could cost the city more in the long run.

At this point, Ms. Addison told reporters she does not know whether she will have her proposed budget finished by mid-April or if council members will allow her to wait until later next month.

In other business, the council voted 4-1 to accept the agreement to set up the Metropolitan Planning Organization designation. Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns gave the only dissenting vote after she questioned some minor wording regarding the makeup of a policy committee that will oversee the urban area designation.

Council members had until Tuesday to act on the MPO or the city stood to lose federal transportation funding.

The city, Jefferson County and state Department of Transportation are working together on the plan. County legislators already passed the document.

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