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Watertown's new mayor outlines his priorities

Jeff Smith

Watertown's new mayor Jeff Smith hasn't held public office since his term on the city council ended back in 2013, but now that he's back and in the executive's seat he is wasting no time getting to work. 

Among Smith's top priorities as he takes office is finding ways to run city government in a more efficient manner, such as investing in equipment to fill potholes more quickly and looking at whether it might be more cost effective to have the city haul its own waste to the landfill rather than paying the county to do it.

"Being a government service, you’re not always going to necessarily make money like a business but you’re going to provide services like a business would in the most efficient, effective manner," Smith said.

Despite flirting with the idea on the campaign trail, Smith says he will not move to stop construction of the new $3 million pool the city is building in Thompson Park because construction is too far gone. But he does want to commission a study to better understand how much the city's two existing public pools are being used and how much it costs to keep them open.

"I would like to move to shut one of them down based on staff recommendation," He said. "It costs about $90,000-$100,000 a year per pool to operate for at best two months a year. I would recommend putting in a splashpad for the younger kids and then utilizing our existing city bus service as a transport to one pool with a drop off and pick up."

Smith's administration will soon have to address the state mandate that Watertown build a second courtroom to properly accommodate the second full-time judge it has had since 2014. It could cost taxpayers more than $3 million. Smith, who is meeting with a state judge on the matter, wants to push back on the mandate.

"In looking at the law, it says that it will provide adequate facilities," Smith said. "I would argue that our facilities are adequate."

And looking at the long term, Smith says he hopes to accomplish two major goals. One would be to explore the idea of adding an amphitheater in Thompson Park as a way to bring in visitors to the city. The other is to find a way to mitigate the upcoming loss of the hydro power contract with National Grid, which is worth millions. Smith has formed a committee chaired by former Mayor Joe Butler to find a solution.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.