Many subjects came up during the Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association Meet the Candidates night, but one that was touched more than once was the affordability of living in Watertown.
Property taxes and rents are growing even as the town undergoes a massive amount of development. One man said both his children have master’s degrees and good jobs, but cannot afford to buy in Watertown.
The candidates for Town Council at the forum (Michelle Cokonougher was unable to attend) agreed that it is more and more difficult to buy a home in town, rent or even to stay in a property in town and shared their ideas for how to tackle the problem.
The candidates for Town Councilor At-Large were asked about their ideas for controlling taxes, reducing taxes and/or making it easier for people to afford to be in town.
Anthony Donato, who is running for the first time, said that affordability of Watertown is preventing people who grew up in town from settling down here.
“I’m part of a lost generation in town,” Donato said. “People age 25-45, there are not a lot of us left. A lot of us have been priced out.”
While he voted against the Community Preservation Act (CPA) last year, Donato said that he hopes the money raised used well and he would like to see the majority of it spent on affordable housing.
Caroline Bays said she knows the difficulty of affording to live in town. Her grown children also cannot afford to live here. While some people struggle to pay their property taxes, others can afford the bills, she said.
“I would like to see if there are ways to help people pay property taxes – the elderly, people on fixed incomes, even some young people find it difficult to pay,” Bays said. “We need to look at if people are in the position to pay.”
Councilor Michael Dattoli said that the Council raised the residential exemption for property taxes by 2 percent, to 22 percent, last year to try to reduce the impact of increasing property taxes for people who live in the property they own. Looking at cutting taxes, however, is a tough task, he said.
“It is difficult to control what we are doing with the tax rate beyond looking at what we are spending funds on,” Dattoli said. “What are we going to reduce?”
He added he wants to look for new options for health insurance for town employees because the GIC agreement is forecast to go up 6 percent next fiscal year.
David Stokes said he would like the town to look for ways to reduce costs by avoiding duplicating positions or having similar ones.
“The creation of a Director of Facilities, the town and schools together, saved the town money,” Stokes said.
He sees opportunities to do similar things in information technology (IT). He also see potential savings by regionalization – Watertown combining forces with other communities to provide services.
Tony Palomba, one of the incumbents, agreed that decreasing taxes would be tough, with the school budget going up 5 percent a year, and other departments 2.5 percent, he is not sure where he would want to make cuts.
He would look at finding new ways to create funds to help residents, and looked at some old methods, such as rent control, or coming up with new programs.
“We could use mitigation (from developments) for the creation of a fund to do things like subsidize rent and help with home ownership,” Palomba said.
The candidates also received questions in a lighting round which they would answer yes or no to the questions. They touched on some high interest topic.
All agreed on some issues:
Yes for supporting the Watertown Police Chief’s policy in regards to not asking immigrants about their immigration status
Yes on voting to approve funding to rebuild or renovate Watertown High School
All said no to adding another artificial turf field at Victory Field
Some issues, however, split the group.
On Watertown becoming a sanctuary city, Palomba and Bays said yes, while Stokes, Donato and Dattoli said no.
Supporting the design guidelines for residential properties in Watertown, Bays and Palomba said yes, while, Donato, Stoke and Dattoli said no.
They were asked about whether Watertown should do a ban on leaf blowers as had recently been proposed to be in effect on Sundays in Newton. Stokes and Bays said yes, Dattoli, Donato and Palomba said no.