2013 In Review: In December Mayor Presents Proposed 2014 Budget With Huge Tax Hike

OSWEGO, NY – Here’s a glimpse of the some of the news from the past 12 months.

The mayor says a tax increase might hurt now. “But, if we don’t do it, it’s going to hurt a whole lot more down the road,” he added.

The proposed fiscal year 2014 operating budget for the city of Oswego was submitted Dec. 2 by Mayor Tom Gillen for consideration by the council.

The tentative spending plan for the coming year was $34,574,842 for all funds; an increase of 14.2 percent compared to the original fiscal year 2013 budget of $30,112,264. This reflects an increase of $4,462,578.

“The Great Recession of 2008 has left its indelible mark upon our local, state and national economy and it will continue to impact our city’s budget for some time to come,” the mayor said.

The Port City’s economy is starting to emerge from the overall slowdown caused by the recession, he noted.

“However, we begin 2014 with the daunting challenge of controlling our spending as well as a strong commitment to growing revenue and improving the quality of life for our residents,” he added.

The consent decree has placed “a significant financial hardship” on every one of the city’s residents, the mayor said.

2013 was a financially challenging year for the city of Oswego. The city’s projected non-property revenue for the year actually decreased by an estimated $804,879, he said, adding that because of this adjustment, the 2014 Requested Tax Rate requires an increase of 81.8 percent. That translates into a tax rate of $18.252 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Local Law Enforcement Agencies Will Receive Equipment to Make Video Recordings of Statements

In early December, it was announced that the Oswego County District Attorney’s Office has been awarded $11,708 in state funds to help local law enforcement agencies purchase equipment for video recording of statements.

The project is overseen by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and is intended to help law enforcement efforts and prosecution outcomes by videotaping interviews and interrogations.

“This grant money allows law enforcement agencies to purchase additional equipment so as to expand the number of interviews being recorded,” said District Attorney Greg Oakes. “Truly, the recording of the interview has worked out tremendously for law enforcement. The video allows a court and jury to hear a defendant’s admissions while seeing his facial expressions and gestures, which often tell as much of his words. Ultimately, this grant money will help my office prosecute crimes and keep the community safe.”

The Fulton City Police Department will receive $5,000; Oswego City Police Department will receive $4,038; Phoenix Village Police Department will receive $785; Pulaski Village Police Department will receive $785; and the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office will receive $1,100.

“The goal of the video recording of statements initiative is to enhance law enforcement efforts and prosecution outcomes through videotaping of interviews and interrogations from beginning to end,” said Michael C. Green, executive deputy commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services, in a letter to District Attorney Oakes.

Oswego City Police Department Introduces Crixus

The Oswego City Police Department announced the addition of its new K-9 unit consisting of Officer James LaDue and Crixus, a two-year-old Dutch Shephard donated by the State Police.

The pair recently completed a New York State Police 20-week Basic K9 Handler training program in Cooperstown, where they were trained in tracking, building searches, handler protection, and narcotic detection.

Additional funding for the program including food, equipment, and veterinary bills was supplemented through forfeitures acquired by the Oswego City Police Anti-Crime Team.

Oswego Lights Up For The Holidays

The Port City officially lit up for the holidays on Dec. 5.

A few showers did little to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. In fact, some members of the crowd were so boisterous at times it was impossible to hear the speakers on stage.

Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen officiated. He welcomed the crowd and thanked everyone involved in the event for making it a success again this year.

“Christmas is less about opening our presents than it is about opening our hearts,” the mayor said. “Let’s always remember that it is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air. Christmas is more than just a season – it is a feeling! It’s a special time of the year. If you don’t have Christmas in your hearts, you won’t have Christmas under your tree.”

Pastor Bruce Schrader offered a holiday prayer as the Nativity scene and Menorah were lit.

This year, the first day of Hanukkah began at sundown on Nov. 27. The holiday ended at sunset Dec. 5.

Rabbi Yossi Madvig said, “The message of Hanukkah, or any holiday for that matter, should not be for just that day or period. The message of Hanukkah of light and goodness and freedom is something that really should extend to every day of the year.”

The winners of the scholastic holiday essay/poetry writing contest were announced. Earning first place honors were: Cadie O’Brien, fourth grade, from Kingsford Park Elementary School; Hayley Bandala, fifth grade, from Kingsford Park Elementary; and Hannah Hayes, sixth grade, from the Oswego Community Christian School.

Where’s Heidi Author Headed To San Antonio

On Easter Sunday, 1994, Heidi Allen disappeared from the D & W Convenience Store in New Haven. Within a few days, the “Heidi Search Center” in San Antonio Texas sent a search expert to come alongside local law enforcement in the search and rescue efforts to find Heidi Allen and bring her home.

“Although Rick (the search expert) returned home with my sister’s case being one of the 3% unsolved, the center’s involvement restored a tired community and family, educated law enforcement, and encouraged many,” Lisa Buske said.

Author, speaker and Heidi’s older sister, Buske was headed to San Antonio to speak at the center’s annual banquet to share HOPE with the staff, volunteers, and families of the missing.

Buske said, “It’s an opportunity for New York to travel to Texas and thank them personally for their role in the search for my sister and it is a reminder of the bond we (families of the missing) have with each other – it doesn’t matter the distance, we are a ‘family’ because of our loss.”

Crystal Calloway, director of programs and services, contacted Buske this summer to talk about Lisa’s book, Where’s Heidi? One Sister’s Journey, and ways they could partner to help families of the missing.

Port City’s Parking Restrictions Started Dec. 11

On December 3, Mayor Tom Gillen issued a press release reminding everyone that last year, the city of Oswego had implemented an “Alternate-Side Winter Parking Restriction.”

The “Alternate-Side Parking Restriction” would be in effect, commencing Dec. 11, he added.

During such time as the parking restriction is imposed, the parking of any vehicle on any city street or highway from 1 to 6 a.m. on an even numbered side of the street on an odd calendar day, or an odd numbered side of the street on an even calendar day, shall be prohibited.

“We understand that this will not provide a solution for every parking situation. But, it will offer some relief to help us throughout the winter months,” the mayor said. “This year, we will again be utilizing the “Alternate-Side Parking Restriction” during the winter months.”

The new program met with mixed reviews last winter.

Legislators OK 2014 Spending Plan

The Oswego County Legislature voted 17-8 to adopt the 2014 spending plan.

Legislators added a bit more to the budget during the meeting. They OK’d a new contract with the deputies association and approved a plan by the District Attorney to spend $26,000 to use an outside counsel to handle appeals cases. Over all, according to county administrator Phil Church, it increases the 2014 budget by 0.4 percent.

The budget isn’t as good as it could have been, according to Legislator Mike Kunzwiler, minority leader.

“It’s up, the budget’s up. It was balanced with reserve funds, again. We all should learn from our history and not repeat our past mistakes. That’s what’s happening,” he said. “I hope it stops.”

Out-going legislator Jim Oldenburg of Scriba, said, “It’s been an enjoyable experience and a learning experience. There are a lot of things I’ll miss. There’s a lot to (the budget process), it’s hard work, but it’s a learning experience. We’re in a good financial position. It may not be the best we can be, but we’re a lot better off than some others.”

“It was a very tough budget this year,” Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner admitted. “It’s probably the hardest that I’ve been involved with. We had people who wanted to raise taxes and other who wouldn’t. Coming to a compromise, it’s hard to do. Having 17 (legislators) support a budget with a minimal increase in these times is a good sign. We know the cities and some towns are hurting, we’re trying to hold the line as much as we can. This was a tough budget year and next year will be twice as hard.”

For the average house in Oswego County ($94,500), the budget means a tax increase of $11.34.

Oswego councilors struggle with huge tax hike

After a week of budget workshops, the councilors were still crunching numbers, trying to reduce an 81 percent property tax rate increase proposed by Oswego’s mayor. Under the proposal, a family with the average $70,000 home would pay an extra $575 a year.

Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen said small cuts won’t make much of a dent. Any significant reduction would involve cutting services, he said.

Police, fire and DPW services account for more than 90% of the budget. Gillen said the departments are already operating with minimal staffing.

Residents Speak Out Against Proposed Oswego Tax Hike

At its meeting Dec. 9, the Common Council got a small sample of what was in store for the following week. Four city residents voiced their opposition to the mayor’s proposed 2014 city budget.

Tony Pauldine, a local businessman said “it kills me that our school taxes are as high as they are. They’re crushing us, they’re enormous.” Now, the city is looking to raise taxes to nearly the same tier, he added.

The city administration should do something about Oswego Health who, according to Pauldine, wants to wipe out entire blocks of housing for parking space.

He took umbrage to remarks the mayor made in the media that he is “happy with the budget.”

“Small businesses are who you’re going to crush,” he told the council.

Battle Of The Bulge Veterans Gather

Sixty-nine 64 years ago, they fought in the greatest land battle that was ever waged. Now, they gather to keep alive the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

More than two dozen members of Oswego County’s surviving veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and other battles met at Bridie Manor. The event was spearheaded by former Oswego city councilor and World War II veteran John Canale.

Canale jokes that he wasn’t there on Dec. 16, 1944, when the battle began to rage. “I was six days later. But it looks like they did a good job without me,” he said.

“We have been together about 12 years and our ranks are growing thinner,” Canale said.

Canale formed the small group around 2002 to honor the local men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Taking nothing away from the larger veterans’ organization, Canale explained that “smaller is better.” He said he wanted a group just for the local Battle of the Bulge veterans – specifically to honor them.

“Many of the GIs who were in the greatest land battle that was ever fought, came from right here in Oswego,” Canale added. “Everywhere I go, whenever I have an opportunity, I brag about this all of the time. I think sometime these men here are long forgotten.”

He describes the members of the group as “patriots” and “heroes.”

“I am doing this to keep the legend of the Battle of the Bulge alive. These men, in my opinion, are the forgotten men of World War II,” Canale explained. “It was the greatest land battle ever fought. It lasted a month and we lost upwards of 81,000 troops.”

As long as he’s living, he will keep the legend of the battle alive, he said.

Cold and Snow Slow Red Kettle Collections

The recent cold weather and snowstorms slowed The Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign across Upstate New York.

“We are asking the community to make a point to donate to the Red Kettle in this our last week of the holiday campaign. Many of our Salvation Army corps have been unable to set up red kettles in their communities because of the heavy snow storms and cold temperature. With this type of weather, the shoppers aren’t out either,” said Major Donald Hostetler, divisional commander of the Empire State Division of The Salvation Army.

“We rely on this money to carry each Salvation Army center through the year in order to help those who need us. All of the Salvation Army officers and hundreds of volunteers are working to provide toys, warm clothing and holiday food baskets for those in need. All of the money raised stays in your area, so when you make a donation this Christmas, you are really making change happen for your neighbors. Every Christmas, I’m humbled by the fact that Upstate New York residents are so eager to give people the chance to rebuild their lives. We are blessed by the many generous business partners that allow us to have kettles at their place of business,” he added.

Council Hacks Oswego Tax Hike Nearly in Half

During a special budget meeting Dec. 18, the Oswego Common Council sliced the mayor’s proposed tax hike for 2014 about in half. But, there were casualties.

The mayor had proposed at tax hike of nearly 82 percent and a rate of $18+ per $1,000 assessed. Councilors cut it to around 40 percent and a rate of $14.39 per $1,000.

As of Jan. 1, 2014, the Code Enforcement Department would no longer exist in the city of Oswego, according to the council’s budget amendments. Those duties would be shared by the police and fire departments. The one part-time investigator would be absorbed by the police department.

There will also be reductions in engineering and zoning. The city’s part-time tourism position would also be cut.

Also on the chopping block were 15 positions within the DPW.

Councilors also sought to institute a 10-day city-wide unpaid furlough in the coming year.

“We have to be creative in 2014. We’ll continue to look for ways to redefine and reinvent ourselves as a city,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said. “We have to take a hard look at the way we operate and make changes.”

Port of Oswego Appoints New Executive Director

The Port of Oswego Authority announced the appointment of Zelko Kirincich to the position of Executive Director.  He will begin his new position on January 6, 2014.

Kirincich comes from the Port Authority of Tampa, Florida, where he worked from 1996-2013.  He most recently served there as Deputy Port Director and Chief Operating Officer.

Prior to his 17 years at the Port of Tampa, Kirincich worked for 14 years at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he specialized in the Engineering Department, project management and facility management.

In the Port of Tampa, his leadership resulted in increases in shipping tonnage, and the diversity of materials handled.  His team expanded the aggregate and cement business from two million to five million tons in less than four years.

Port of Oswego chairman, Terrence Hammill said, “We are very excited that Zelko Kirincich has agreed to be our new port director.  He comes with the most experience of any port director in our port’s history.  The recent growth in the Port of Oswego, and the new economic vision of Central New York will be enhanced by Zelko’s experience, energy level and vitality.”

Oswego Council OKs 2014 Budget Plan

The nearly 200 Port City residents and employees packed the Oswego Council Chamber and spilling into the hallways had something to cheer about Dec. 23. The Common Council approved the 2014 budget – and the 15 DPW positions that were slated for elimination were saved.

The council did some creative rearranging of budgetary items between the public meeting on the budget plan and Dec. 23, according to Council President Ron Kaplewicz.

The tax levy (per $1,000 assessed) now stands at $14,488.

The budget still contained the loss of several positions.

“We rearranged a whole bunch of different things. There were several positions (the DPW commissioner) had vacant that he’s not going to refill. We looked at the vacancies that were currently unstaffed, where we were with potential retirements, also looked at every freaking dollar that we’re spending whether it was in snow removal or equipment or whatever,” Kaplewicz said following the meeting. “In the end, we got creative. We’re literally going to restructure and redesign our DPW and the way we operate as a unit.”

It has to be negotiated with the unions, but the budget contains a 4 percent apportioned cut to every department in every department in the city.

“You either agree to take the (10-day) furlough, or we will have layoffs,” Kaplewicz said. “We have to make our budget. That’s what it comes down to.”

“It’s one piece of the battle,” Jody Delbrocco, the business agent for the SEIU-Local 200 union, said of the decision on the 2014 budget. “We made it through today. Tomorrow’s another day. We’ve still got work to do.”

As far as the furloughs, Delbrocco said, “There’s more than one way to get to where we need to go. It’s not the first time we started out with ‘A’ and ended up with ‘B.’ These are good people, honest people doing a tough job. We’ll work with them, we’ll get there.”