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Sun., Aug. 30
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If DOT moves down the road, will downtown Watertown suffer?


State lawmakers who represent the city are anxious for details on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's plan to consolidate the Department of Transportation, wary that the changes might put as many as 150 jobs at risk of moving elsewhere.
Region 7 of the Department of Transportation, which stretches from Watertown to Plattsburgh, is headquartered at a state office building on Washington Street. But if the state moves from its 11 current regions to six, as Mr. Cuomo has proposed, the Watertown headquarters might move elsewhere, bringing jobs with it.
“You take three floors of employees out of a building, that's a lot of lunch business that's gone, that's a lot of shopping at the farmer's market, that's the local bank branches, the YMCA facilities,” said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, who is calling for the DOT to keep the offices in Watertown but is not against the region becoming larger.
The potential loss of jobs could be especially problematic for downtown Watertown, the focus of efforts to rejuvenate Watertown's urban core.
“The key to revitalization is having jobs located there,” said Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham. “To keep downtown viable, you don't want to be losing jobs.”
While the Cuomo administration has said it wants to downsize the number of DOT regions in the state — reigning in the size and cost of government has been a consistent theme of Mr. Cuomo's year-long tenure — it has not unveiled the counties that would comprise the different regions and where the regional headquarters would be located. The situation should become more clear on Thursday, during a legislative budget hearing.
Such government consolidation efforts are one of the ways that the Cuomo administration hopes to close a $2 billion state budget gap without raising taxes again.
But lawmakers, while applauding consolidation in general, are signaling concern about cuts to government that could have parochial ramifications.
“I think the governor is taking the right approach in looking for ways to save taxpayer money,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “With that said, I'm concerned about the plan and want to make sure it won't affect our region disproportionately.”
Mrs. Russell said that the Interstate 81 connector near Fort Drum has been professionally shepherded by local DOT employees.
“I think it's valuable to have them reside in the community,” Mrs. Russell said. “We have a lot of growth going on.”
Mrs. Ritchie and Mrs. Russell both have offices in the Dulles State Office Building.
That heartened Mr. Graham, the Watertown mayor.
“I'm sure they'll be sufficiently sensitive to the matter,” Mr. Graham said. “Of course, I'm not in favor of the state office building emptying out.”

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