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Proposed city of Watertown budget includes 2 percent tax levy hike

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City Manager Sharon A. Addison released her first proposed budget, a $41 million spending plan that carries a 2 percent tax levy increase, Monday afternoon.

As proposed, it would increase the amount to be raised by taxes to about $7.5 million. The projected tax rate would be $7.30 — or less than a penny increase — per $1,000 of assessed value.

A taxpayer with a $200,000 property would pay $1,460, a little less than $20 more than this year.

The city would spend an estimated $41,049,635 for the general fund in the upcoming fiscal year, down from the $42.1 million budgeted this year, a decrease of about $1 million, or 2.52 percent.

But, to compare oranges to oranges, city Comptroller James E. Mills noted last year’s $42.1 million adopted budget included $3.1 million in accelerated state aid that filled a budget gap and won’t be in the 2013-14 budget.

The public got its first look at the tentative budget when it was released on the city’s website Monday afternoon. In past years, the spending plan was always presented at a City Council meeting and then discussed during a presentation.

Instead, council members were given the proposed budget Friday after giving some direction in previous weeks about what they wanted to see in it. Council members then had a chance to browse the document over the weekend. And they were pleased with what they saw, although Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith would still like to “tinker with it” and ask some questions.

“Overall, I think it’s a great budget,” he said.

In a deviation from past years, council members got involved in the budget earlier, and they subsequently responded by setting a series of parameters they wanted for Ms. Addison to follow as she continued to work on the document.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he saw no surprises in the plan he went through it over the weekend.

“I knew what it was going to be. There was no mystery,” he said, adding he liked the change in this year’s budget process.

Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso also said Ms. Addison “got it down where we wanted it.”

“I don’t see that it needs a lot of tweaking,” she said.

As directed by council members, the city manager intends to use $1.6 million of the fund balance in her spending plan, leaving a projected $7.2 million, Mr. Mills said. In recent weeks, Ms. Addison also found $1 million in reductions by making a series of cuts in such items as vehicles, equipment and overtime, she said.

“I looked at the higher priorities and made the cuts around them,” she said.

As it stands, the city manager has proposed adding two positions in the Sewer Department and reducing the Fire Department by two firefighters through attrition.

She also kept $35,000 in her tentative budget to pay for security at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library as requested by the library board, Ms. Addison said.

But early items such as improving the audio-visual equipment in the council chambers and adding a human resources assistant did not make it into the proposed budget, she said.

In the budget’s capital portion, the city plans to spend $3.6 million for an overhaul of the Watertown Municipal Arena.

On March 26, Ms. Addison, who was appointed city manager in July, asked for advice in preparing her proposed budget after starting with a $41.38 million draft budget in March that had a 34 percent tax increase.

After that meeting, the city manager said she would find ways to cut $800,000 from that draft budget, but she went beyond that, she said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is tentatively scheduled for May 7. Council members must approve it by June 1.

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