The six candidates for Watertown City Council — two incumbents and four newcomers — were asked to submit statements summarizing their positions. The primary will be held Tuesday. The top four vote-getters will move on to the general election Nov. 5. Two will be elected, serving four-year terms. Elected offices in the city are nonpartisan; any registered voter may participate in the primary. Here are their statements, presented in alphabetical order.
Jasmine W. Borreggine
My name is Jasmine Borreggine, and I am running for the Watertown City Council. I am a small-business owner with a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration. I am also married to my husband, Mark, and I am the mother of three wonderful children: Isabella, Erik and Matthew. Our furry family members include Dolly and Onyx, our standard poodles. I have lived within the city of Watertown for the past 17 years. Mark and I have been homeowners within the city since our early 20s. Both having spent our later childhood and adolescent years in our great city, we are blessed to call this place home. I am simply running for the City Council because I believe the status quo is complacent, and in some cases detrimental, to the future of our city. I believe that Watertown has significant potential to recapture the glory of yesteryear and once again become the bastion of economic progress that it once was. Although Jefferson County has experienced a tremendous amount of economic growth with the expansion of Fort Drum, the city of Watertown has continually lost out on opportunities to maximize this growth in favor of outlying municipalities. In light of our country’s population doubling in size since 1950, the city of Watertown has actually witnessed a 21 percent decline in total population. This population shift is indicative of one thing: Prospective residents and business owners are making rational economic decisions to pay less in taxes. Watertown has to get competitive or we will continue to decline. In spite of all our City Council’s attempts to tax and regulate us into prosperity, the job opportunities are no longer in the city. Our public schools are struggling to meet demands, despite the best efforts of our educators and administrators. There is 18.5 percent of Watertown’s families living below the poverty line. Our city’s greatest export is our children. I say this not to malign the hardest working among us but to simply point out the fact that this is not normal. This is not OK. And we can do better. No one who is working diligently at a job, or perhaps two or three odd jobs, should have to stand by and watch their additional earnings be reclaimed by tax increases, to subsidize a failed product. By lightening the load on everyone, by attracting new residents and new businesses, we will ensure that we can achieve these things without cuts to essential services. Although I stand most strongly on principle on the issues of taxation and limited government, I encourage you to visit my website to review more of my plan for Watertown’s best and brightest future. Lastly, I encourage any city resident to make contact with me to discuss anything of concern. I want to hear from you, not dictate to you. Once again, thank you. I am sincerely looking forward to a challenging and rewarding campaign season.
Cody J. Horbacz
In order for any municipality to enjoy a high quality of life, it is important each member of its governing body understands and meets the needs of the community they serve. As a member of the Watertown City Council, it is my sincere desire to build upon our successes, including the revitalization of downtown Watertown and positive economic climate, while bringing all of your ideas to the table and celebrating the unique blend of culture and traditions we enjoy. Moving forward, I believe it is time to focus on ways to improve our local business community to help create more jobs, encourage entrepreneurship and add to the tax base. While our schools are faced with an ever-growing population and apparent reductions in state funding, tax incentives for out-of-town housing developers seem to keep adding to the strain on our school system and its taxpayers. With proper neighborhood revitalization efforts and incentives solely for developers headquartered within our city, we can broaden our tax base knowing our dollars stay local while improving our quality of life. Below I have highlighted key initiatives that I intend to accomplish while working with fellow members of the City Council and the community: Home-grown economy We can put programs in place that give local entrepreneurs preferential treatment over outside interests. By creating unique tax incentives for locally owned startups, we can nurture growth at home and ensure long-term viability. Local businesses hire local and spend local. Keeping money in our community is always a great thing. City of culture Let the creativity flow. Art, music and drama can enlighten as well as entertain. A city of culture has its own identity that is unique and inviting. The arts can bring our community together and grow our local economy. A quality life for our children Ensure all city playgrounds receive proper maintenance and funding to be safe places of fun, learning and friendship. Providing our youths positive recreation can deter mischief and instill community pride, resulting in reduced criminal activity. Pet-friendly environment Pets are companions. Dogs need socialization just as people do. Let’s work together to create a peaceful habitat for dogs and people to be outdoors and interact with each other in a friendly, safe environment. Living local Living local is exactly how it sounds — shopping with local businesses, buying locally grown produce and giving to community-based charities. We need a new perspective in our local government. Being aware of our community and the people living in it can change the way City Hall operates. Forward thinking This really ties it all together. We must think outside the bounds of what is status quo. The future is not predetermined. An open-minded, receptive approach is how we move forward and grow as a community. As a lifelong city resident who chose to stay and make a home here with my family, I understand that my decisions as a council member will affect every member of our community. On Sept. 10, I would sincerely appreciate your vote.
Stephen A. Jennings
The City of Watertown today has a tremendous opportunity to improve its neighborhoods and economy. While all candidates are tempted to tout what they will do immediately if elected, my goal is to work with city, community and regional partners to achieve objectives that have a productive impact not just next year but 20 years from now. An undue consequence of revitalizing the city’s center will likely be a further erosion of several Watertown neighborhoods already in deep decay. The recent census shows that one in five city families lives in poverty, and 44 percent of the city’s households with children in poverty are headed by women. Drug activity, overdose deaths, crime, under- and unemployment, inadequate housing, low educational attainment and poor health are all most prevalent in the city’s neighborhoods afflicted by poverty. Economic development and housing initiatives alone are not going to solve these problems. We must adopt a broader revitalization approach that directly engages the residents of these distressed neighborhoods. City government, economic development, housing, education, employment and training, law enforcement, health and social services, financial and philanthropic representatives must all sit at the same table with residents to devise and implement strategies that are holistic, neighborhood-driven and sustainable. We must also further diversify our business base if we want to sustain the city’s economy and improve our citizens’ quality of life. In addition to the firms already functioning in Watertown, opportunity exists to greatly expand corporate and startup high-technology capacities with the revitalization of Public Square and the Mercy complex. Supported by the region’s high-capacity fiber-optic network, partnerships with educational institutions and private investors hold great promise to develop a high-technology city center. This will attract complementing businesses, create jobs and entice people to work and live in the city’s center and surrounding revitalized neighborhoods. The city faces other serious challenges. We are more reliant on unpredictable sales tax than other comparable New York cities, and our revenue streams must be brought into greater balance. Our recent designation as a Metropolitan Statistical Area places the city and region on a significant learning curve to understand its complexities and capitalize on its advantages. MSA status could facilitate greater access to federal funds for transportation and economic development, and raise the marketing profile of the region. The benefits of being an MSA must support neighborhood revitalization and economic development. Enhanced federal aid and improved commercial and residential property values should help minimize sales tax reliance and stabilize the city’s revenue base. I want my children to grow up having a choice where to live as adults, and I want that choice to include Watertown. This is now possible with historic transformation of our city on the horizon. The next City Council must provide the needed leadership that builds the capacities of all neighborhoods and all people. We will have responsibility to be united in purpose and unyielding in vision to improve our city and region, and ensure our children’s best future.
Rodney J. LaFave
Public safety n Strengthen public safety by ensuring that the police and fire departments are provided with the resources, training and support they need to keep our city safe. n Utilize state and federal public safety grants to help fund the departments. Fiscal responsibility/revenue expansion n Ensure that the city eliminates waste, prioritizes spending and spends appropriately and efficiently. n Expand revenue in an attempt to reduce the tax burden of home and business owners, such as imposing/enforcing fees on transient businesses and attracting and supporting events in an attempt to support local businesses and generate sales tax revenue. City cleanliness/condition n Address the condition of rental properties by proposing a self-funded rental inspection, which is common in many municipalities, to ensure that said properties are safe, clean and in compliance with the NYS Property Maintenance Code. n Devise and implement an action plan to prioritize improvement of the condition of our city streets. Economic development n Utilize incentives to attract business and development to increase our tax base and create and sustain jobs. That said, incentives should be used wisely and not on projects that would likely be completed without them and will negatively affect our local housing market, such as some of the new apartment complexes. When there is a need for housing, developers will move forward with these projects with little or no incentives. The PILOT programs given not only place more tax burden on home- and business owners, they also add more expense to our school system while providing little or no revenue, as well as affecting the tax revenue collected by our county. n Examine and pursue new, innovative approaches toward economic development that appear to be effective in other municipalities, such as “economic gardening.” School system n Ensure that council does its part to make our school system the best that it can be. Quality of life n Ensure that local government is limited and does not infringe upon the rights of residents. n Offer programs/facilities for youths that promote values such as tolerance and respect. n Promote and support programs/facilities to enhance cultural diversity. Serving on City Council is a privilege n Ensure that I am approachable and available to residents to address all concerns in a timely and fair manner. n Ensure that I fully understand all sides of an issue and consider public opinion prior to presenting or voting on an issue. n Always act in a manner that is in the best interest of Watertown and its residents.
Teresa R. Macaluso
Like many of my constituents, I was critical of local government. I didn’t understand the political process that makes government work. In order to understand government, I needed to be a part of the process. I have learned it is not as “cut and dry” as I once thought. Although I did not have an agenda, I did have my concerns. My major concern was the future of the Mercy Building. I could see the direction it was headed, and I knew it would be a hardship for the city if it became ours. So for the last four years, I have tried to keep the dialogue going. Now, that has been resolved. I stand in support of incentives to make sure it is completed. Prior to being elected to the City Council, I was critical of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. The costs of rehabilitating or demolishing properties such as Mercy, Woolworth or the Lincoln building would cost the city millions of dollars. Attracting developers to New York state is difficult. Although it appears we are giving developers with strong financial backing tax breaks, we are in fact shifting the burden of these properties away from taxpayers. We simply could not afford this. We have to recognize that PILOT projects have expiration dates, usually eight to 10 years. We are investing in the future of Watertown. In time, the PILOT program will pay taxes on the full value of these properties at a higher assessment. In light of this, I will be supporting the 485a initiative in order to give every developer the same incentives to develop and/or improve their properties. As a business owner, I recognize that with the influx of multiple franchises, local businesses are struggling. I would like to work with the Watertown Chamber of Commerce, local media or some other venue to highlight local businesses. My goal as a member of the City Council has been, and will be, the needs of the community. I have dealt with many individual issues over the last three and a half years and know my constituents. No matter what the issue, they want and need to be heard. It is necessary to keep the lines of communication open between elected officials and their constituents. I take pride in knowing I have assisted many people in their quest for answers. They don’t always like the outcome, but at least they have an understanding of the situation. I don’t consider any issue too small or insignificant. I have been guided by my ethics, principles, education and life experiences in making decisions on the City Council. I will continue to be the voice of reason and be available to my constituents. I will continue to take the conservative approach on budgetary issues to maintain a stable tax base. I will continue to address the concerns and needs of the community. I never forget that I work for you.
Jeffrey M. Smith
I will continue to work to keep the tax rate flat and cut taxes when possible, as I have previously done. The City Council has been fiscally responsible resulting in the city of Watertown receiving glowing reviews from the New York state comptroller, stating that our city is fiscally sound. Our Moody’s bond rating (credit rating) has gone up; our current tax rate is less than it was in 2006; and we collect less in property taxes from home and property owners. In addition, we have been able to significantly reduce our overall debt. Compared to 10 years ago, our downtown is blossoming with a new streetscape. More storefronts and new businesses are opening up in downtown. Three new huge developments are projected to get underway soon (the Mercy building and Woolworth building will be developed in both ground-level commercial storefronts and residential apartments; the Lincoln building will be converted into commercial property with additional office space for rent). I will continue to work to create an environment that fosters ongoing development and growth in the city of Watertown. I will continue to foster improvement to the city’s infrastructure as I voted to dedicate $4 million for renovations at the Fairgrounds arena (that hosts many citywide activities), working collaboratively with the zoo conservancy in order to improve the Thompson Park Zoo and all of its growth. I will foster continued paving with new curbs while maintaining the city sidewalk program. Furthermore, I will support an increase in housing development, especially in targeted neighborhood redevelopment like the Emerson Street project, which was a project that the city partnered with Neighbors of Watertown. Moreover, I will continue to engage in forward thinking, advocating for progressive changes that will lead our city toward different avenues of saving money while promoting efficiency. An example of this is the current project to power the sewer treatment plant by using its own production of methane gas as a source of energy producing its own electricity and moving forward to be self-sufficient. For the past decade, I have advocated using excess methane gas as a source of power. Taxpayers will save hundreds of thousands of dollars for years to come. I will continue to be proactive in code enforcement in order to keep our buildings, properties and neighborhoods from deterioration. I believe in the preservation of single-family neighborhoods and the continued integrity of these few but still very important neighborhoods. I will continue to support the police and fire departments in their primary mission to provide public safety. As I have always done, I will continue making the tough decisions that improve our city as a whole instead of sacrificing what is right to be politically correct or to avoid potential controversy. I will make decisions in the best interest of city residents and will not be a pawn for certain groups.
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