OSWEGO, NY – Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman says the city has and will continue to face tough economic times.
“Despite these difficult economic conditions, many accomplishments were achieved and more will follow this year,” he said Monday night during his annual State of the City Address.
“It all looks nice and rosy on paper, despite the fact that we are still millions of dollars in debt and have millions of dollars to go in our consent order,” Sixth Ward Councilor Bill Sharkey pointed out.
And, the city’s population keeps decreasing every year, he added.
“Until we stop spending money, I don’t know how we’re going to fix it,” he said. “In my house we don’t spend money we don’t have. In the business I work in, we don’t spend money we don’t have. So why do we keep doing it in government?”
“It shows the progress that the city is making in spite of tough times,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said of the mayor’s address. “There are an awful lot of good things that can happen – even if you have to tighten your belts.”
The council will continue to work with the mayor for positive change in the Port City, he added.
“We all will do our best to see the city continues to improve,” he said. “The mayor talked about it being a partnership and that’s what it is, a partnership.”
Mayor Bateman’s 2011 State of the City Address
Our City of Oswego, like the rest of our state, faced a challenging year in 2010. Even though the economy did improve somewhat, it has not yet fully recovered. Despite these difficult economic conditions, many accomplishments were achieved and more will follow this year.
Make no mistake though, the coming year will present many unique challenges to our city. My administration and the Common Council will face these challenges together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as public officials who were elected to do what is best for this city.
A major challenge facing our city this year and future years is the Consent Decree. This decree outlines the necessary repairs that need to be made to our Westside Sewer System. This was a long process of negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to determine what the Consent Decree will involve.
As a result of this decree, we have had to increase our sewer fees. These fees went up 300% in 2010 and another 50% in 2011. The sewer fund has to be self-sufficient by March of 2012. You will recall that Oswego did not have a sewer fee for many years as the cost of this service was funded from the general fund. When the City was notified of the inquiry into our discharges to the Oswego River, we basically had two options concerning the Consent Decree. We could deny the allegations and be sued in Federal Court or we could negotiate a settlement with U.S. and NYS Agencies. We chose to negotiate in order to achieve the most favorable arrangement for the City. If we chose to go to court, we would have lost, incurred large legal bills and fines, then still be made to complete the needed work to remedy the problems. While nobody likes being forced to spend large amounts of money, I believe that we made the correct decision in negotiating the best deal for our taxpayers.
During 2010, we witnessed the New York State Department of Transportation’s rehabilitation of the Utica Street Bridge over the Oswego River. We coped with the demolition and reconstruction of the Route 104 Bridge in 2008, and we survived. This project is not nearly as challenging, as two lanes of traffic, one in each direction, will be kept open during the work. Similar to the Route 104 Bridge, this new bridge will allow for the viewing of our waterscape. The ugly, rusty steel sidewalls have been replaced by a see-through system using four horizontal rails with one inch vertical spindles. After shutting down construction for the winter, this project is scheduled to continue in April and be substantially completed by the end of July and fully completed by August. As was the case with the Route 104 Bridge project, we ask for your patience and tolerance as another improvement is made to our city infrastructure.
Last year I asked the Common Council to change the way the city typically disposes of property collected for unpaid taxes. The previous method was to have the alderman of the ward where the property was located, take offers and present them to the full council. Properties were typically sold for much less than their true value. By implementing my suggestion and using the services of a real estate agency in order to get a better return for the taxpayer, the city is able to sell these properties for a better price. The council chose the real estate agency based upon their commission price and their qualifications.
The Recreation Commission that I appointed continues to explore ways to take full advantage of our recreational resources and maximize their use.
The revitalized Campus City Relations Committee continues to seek ways to strengthen our relationship with our campus neighbors. Our campus population is a significant part of our community, and it is important for us to collaborate with them on areas of mutual concern.
The Code Review Committee is constantly reviewing sections of our City Code to enhance, update, and clarify it.
The Historical Review Committee will be busy reviewing any new construction or renovation projects in the B2 and B3 Districts to ensure that it is compatible with the surrounding structures.
The Oswego Tree Steward Program has been active in assisting the DPW with coming up with innovative ways to preserve our tree assets.
The Trees for Vets Program was started last year and will continue this year with the designation and dedication of trees along Bridge Street.
As of January 1, 2011, the City had 303 people on payroll including seasonal and part-time positions. This number is down from last year when there were 309 city employees. During the course of our bi-monthly meetings, I have directed our Department Heads to work on an employee succession plan and an equipment replacement plan. This will allow us to develop a comprehensive plan to determine the future needs of our various departments.
I want to also commend the Service Employees International Union 200 United and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1785 for agreeing to take a zero percent wage increase for 2010. They have recognized the state of the economy and have agreed to partner with the city in order to keep costs down while the economy recovers.
There are 7,197 active parcels in the city. I am pleased to report that for the eighth consecutive year the City of Oswego has received the Office of Real Property Tax Services Excellence in Equity Award. These awards are granted to municipalities that conducted reassessments in 2010 that met State standards for quality assessment administration.
The Police Department has been busy in 2010. There were 1433 arrests made last year. Of these, 175 were for a felony, 587 were for a misdemeanor and 610 were for a violation. The Criminal Investigations Division handled 256 investigations, there were 4645 parking tickets issued and 431 warrants were received.
Not to be outdone, the Fire Department responded to 5055 incidents last year. The vast majority, 3890 incidents, were for Emergency Medical Services.
In 2010, the City of Oswego in cooperation with the Oswego City DPW, Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, and the Oswego YMCA opened a skateboard park for the summer in the parking lot of the Crisafulli Ice Skating Rink. This proved to be a popular venue for youth of all ages. Based on the success of last year’s program, we plan to open the skateboard park again this year. A committee is actively working to locate a permanent spot for the skateboard park.
The City Clerk’s Office has been very busy as well. They issued 1652 birth certificates, 1792 death certificates, and 159 marriage licenses. They also maintain all city records and respond to all requests for city documents.
During 2010, the Water Department produced about 3.3 billion gallons of potable water. The Wastewater Treatment Plants treated over 1.79 billion gallons of sewage. As part of the Consent Decree, the flow capacity of the Westside Wastewater Treatment Plant will be upgraded from 8 million gallons per day to 12 million gallons per day. Due to a suspected issue with our lime stabilized sludge causing an ammonia problem at the Oswego County Landfill, we can no longer dispose of it there. Instead, we transport it to a different landfill for disposal that does not require lime stabilization. This change in disposal sites actually saves the City about $8,000 due to lower tipping fees and a $28,322 savings from the lime stabilization requirement. So by using a different landfill to dispose of the sludge, the City will realize a total savings of over $36,000 this year.
The Wastewater Treatment Plants are also having their lighting upgraded. Once completed, this will provide savings of about $3,500 per year. Lighting upgrades that were completed in other buildings in 2010 will result in an additional savings of about $19,000.
The Department of Public Works has purchased some new equipment with a NYS Regional Economic Development grant. This grant, made possible from former State Senator Darrel Aubertine, allows the DPW to purchase two ten wheel plow trucks, a street sweeper, a sewer cleaning vacuum truck, a backhoe with trailer, and an open-wheeled loader. This new equipment will help the DPW maintain, repair and reconstruct about 86 miles of road and over 100 miles of sidewalk in the City as well as assist in the Consent Decree required maintenance of our sewer systems. The DPW is also responsible for the upkeep of all city buildings, parks, marinas, ice rinks, swimming pool, city trees, water lines, sewer lines, and maintaining our fleet of vehicles.
The Engineer’s Office completed numerous projects last year. Many had to do with the Consent Decree. They also worked on the design of new water lines, new streets and closely monitored the High Dam. The Zoning Office was busy as well, having issued 226 building permits, 93 variances, 34 sign permits, 20 special permit applications, and 12 site plan approvals last year.
The major portion of our revenue is derived from our sales and use tax, even surpassing property tax revenues. The projected sales and use tax revenue for 2010 was set at $11,495,271. The actual amount collected was $11,241,049 which equates to a shortfall of $254,222. When the sales and use tax projection was set in August of 2010 for the 2011 budget year, we were in an improving economy. Therefore, we forecasted a slight increase of $126,693 from the 2010 budgeted amount to a total of $11,621,964. It is also noteworthy to mention that the 2011 Mayor’s Proposed Budget was passed by the Common Council without a single amendment.
I instituted a discretionary spending freeze in all city departments in 2010. That freeze continues into this year. The discretionary spending freeze allows department heads to spend funds on only those items necessary to keep their departments functioning. This spending freeze will continue through the year as we monitor our expenses and revenues. We are also waiting for the New York State budget to be passed, as we depend on that for our Aid and Incentive to Municipalities (AIM) funding. In 2010, the AIM funding was cut to $2,501,733, causing an instant decrease of $160,961 in our revenues. The 2011 AIM funding for Oswego has already been decreased by 2% to $2,451,698 in the Governor’s proposed budget. We had anticipated a reduction in this revenue, so we only budgeted for $2,396,425. AIM funding accounts for approximately 8.5% of our revenues for 2011. Our Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding is proposed to remain the same at $444,748. Again, since we must have our city budget passed by August, we are not aware of most of these unknowns as they are not announced until late in the year.
At the beginning of 2001, the city had an Unappropriated Fund Balance of $12.3 million. At the beginning of 2006, when I took office as Acting Mayor, it was only $1.7 million. I am pleased to report that even though the economy was dismal throughout the previous year, we still managed to maintain an unaudited Unappropriated Fund Balance of $2.3 million at the end of 2010.
During the 2010 fiscal year, we achieved 99.2% of our estimated General Budget Revenues. Causing a shortfall in the 2010 budgeted revenues were $288,389 in unpaid city property taxes and $317,066 in unpaid water/sewer bills. To compound matters, the city had to pay $504,430 in unpaid school taxes. By law, the city has to make the school district whole for any unpaid school taxes.
On a positive note, by carefully and prudently controlling our expenditures, we only spent 96.43 % of our estimated General Budget Expenses during 2010.
Overall, our unaudited budget surplus for 2010 was $809,095.
We will benefit from many projects this year. Several developers have had plans approved for new construction. The Captain’s Quarters Conference Center has broken ground on a $6 million expansion. The Flexo-Wire site is moving along for the Waterfront Square development to break ground soon with 24 residential units and 12 new retail spaces. The Stevedore Development on West First Street is underway with 36 residential and 5 commercial units. Also on West First Street, the Seaway Lofts will create 20 – 1 bedroom and 6 – 2 bedroom apartments at the former Seaway Supply Building. The former Knights of Columbus building will be developed into a 14 unit hotel called the Beacon Hotel.
The Coming Year
Looking ahead in 2011, the Common Council and this administration will be working on several plans. We will work with the NYS DOT on the Route 104 East reconstruction from George Street to City Line Road. The NYS DOT will begin this fall with some utility work, and then proceed in earnest in the spring of 2012.
We have finalized plans for a new city street east of the Staples store to allow a signalized intersection for the safe ingress and egress of customers visiting the retail stores in that area. We will coordinate our efforts with the NYS DOT road work to minimize any traffic problems.
The newly-appointed Time Warner Cable Franchise Renewal Committee is currently reviewing the renewal terms of our agreement which expires this month. Their recommendations will be reviewed by the Common Council for action.
We will advance our work on one of our historic landmarks, the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse. We will continue to renovate this landmark as grant money becomes available.
Oswego, along with the rest of the nation, is slowly recovering from the recent economic downturn. We are ready to face the challenging year ahead. Just as our community united to rally against the closure of Historic Fort Ontario, we will unite once again to face the challenges of the coming year together.
Dated: March 14, 2011
Randolph F. Bateman
Mayor, City of Oswego, NY