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Watertown sales tax down; light winter drains hydroelectric revenue

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So far, it’s been a down year for sales tax and hydroelectric power revenues for the city of Watertown.

City Comptroller James E. Mills told the Watertown City Council on Monday night that the city is falling about $1.2 million short in two of its largest sources of revenue.

For the first six months of this fiscal year, projected sales tax figures are down $135,000, or 1.47 percent, from what was approved in the 2013-14 budget.

Over the course of the entire year, Mr. Mills estimates, the sales tax revenue will be down by about $365,000 from what he had projected in the budget. The city had projected sales tax revenue would increase by about 5 percent for the year; it now is expected to go up only 1 percent.

And revenue from the sale of hydroelectric power is down $890,300 — or 22.54 percent compared with the same time last year — based on year-to-date figures, Mr. Mills said.

Normally, the city sells its excess hydroelectric power to National Grid, but production is so low this year that the city has had to purchase electricity from the utility during four of the first seven months of the fiscal year, Mr. Mills said.

“We’ve had a dry summer, probably a not very heavy winter,” Mr. Mills said. He said the situation had not been as bad at any other time in his 10 years as comptroller.

The city has also spent $166,000 more in demolition costs than had been budgeted this year. The city tore down a fire-ravaged building at 239 High St., a former tattoo shop at 606 Factory St. and houses at 123 E. Lynde St. and 209 Sterling St.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham asked about the chances of Ricky E. Frazier paying back the city for demolishing the High Street apartment building. He said the Glen Park resident recently purchased 85-87 Public Square, the building that houses the Crystal Restaurant, for $125,000.

Some people have wondered whether Mr. Frazier used the insurance money from the eight-apartment High Street building, the location of a May 15 arson fire, to purchase the Public Square property, the mayor said.

Using a combination of city workers and a private contractor, the city tore down the building’s remnants in early August and hauled away the debris. The city claims its cost for the cleanup was $70,432, for which it is trying to get reimbursed by Mr. Frazier.

Last month, the city filed a lawsuit against Mr. Frazier over the demolition issue. He could not be reached for comment.

Not all the city’s revenue news is bad, however. Mr. Mills said mortgage tax revenue is up $182,000, and money brought in from the sale of excess property increased by $172,000, including $85,000 from the former Fort Drum Vehicle Storage warehouse at 753 Rear W. Main St. The nine properties were acquired by the city for back taxes.

“We’re pleased with some and not pleased with some of the news,” Mr. Graham said.

As a result of the budget shortfalls, Mr. Mills recommended that the city hold off on making some purchases, including three police cars, until revenues improve. He also suggested borrowing the money for the $435,000 pavilion project at the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park.

Council members have earmarked about $305,000 in this year’s budget to pay for the structure, which would be built this spring at the site of the zoo’s little-used aviary.

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