2015 In Review: March – Rudy’s Opening Heralds The Arrival Of Spring

Congressman John Katko, right, chats with Oswego Councilor Bill Barlow prior to the listening session Wednesday night.

Congressman John Katko, right, chats with Oswego Councilor Bill Barlow prior to the listening session Wednesday night.

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

Many of the first customers at Rudy’s this March sported winter jackets and hats instead of shorts and T-shirts. Despite the arrival of Spring the week before, winter refused to relinquish its grip on the area.

However, local residents know that Spring really returns as soon as the historic little restaurant nestled on the shore of Lake Ontario at The Loop throws open its doors.

Originally, Rudy’s was planning to open March 11 but the snow and cold was just too overwhelming at the time so things were postponed.

About a dozen cars lined up in front of the eatery shortly before its scheduled 10 a.m. opening. Within the next few minutes, nearly a dozen patrons had been served. Kiersten Clancy, Mariah Pitcher and Corby Rowe walked in right at 10 a.m.

“It’s the first time we’ve been first,” Kiersten said. “Usually there are a lot of people already here. This is our first time walking in first.”

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Mariah said. “We like to come here a lot during the summer.”

Usually, they enjoy sitting by the water. However, they opted to eat inside for a change.

Lines at the counter were three deep at times. The lines didn’t last long as patrons, hungry to shake off the winter doldrums with some summer fare, placed their orders of French fries, fish, Texas hots and other items as the counter staff shouted the orders back to the cooks, who unfailingly memorized the orders and cooked each to perfection within minutes.

Urban legend holds that if a “tardy” high school student returns with some Rudy’s fare for their teachers, they won’t be marked absent. However, no high schoolers were observed this year.

Local State of Emergency Still In Effect
The State of Emergency imposed by Mayor Thomas Gillen in early March remained in effect for the city of Oswego.

According to Oswego DPW Commissioner Michael Smith, more than 30 properties have had their water services restored but there were still more than a dozen who remained without water as the work continued.

It was EXTREMELY important that residents continue to have their water running (about the diameter of a pencil) without interruption until further notice.

Do not be fooled by the lack of sub zero temperatures, more services continue to freeze and in some cases, have been thawed, but water was not left running, and refreezes have occurred, he said.

The Oswego YMCA generously opened its doors for those residents still without water to use their community room for shelter as well as their shower facilities between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The Oswego Fire Department East Side Station was providing potable water for those same residents at anytime by using the East Seneca Street entrance.

Residents Voice Opposition To City’s Winter Parking Policy
Nearly a dozen speakers voiced their opposition to the Port City’s winter parking policy at an early March council meeting.

However, after almost two hours, the councilors took no action on the matter. For now, at least, Oswego’s alternate side parking remained in effect for the remainder of the winter.

Members of the public called the city’s current alternate side parking policy disgusting, ridiculous and told city officials to “get rid of it.” Some offered possible options to the policy.

“I don’t think anyone wants to make a legitimate move on what it is; I don’t think anyone wants to take the responsibility on what the outcome is. I’m willing to say that it’s a tough position because we’re not going to be able to really put an effective decision out there that is going to get to a lot of people in the short time that we have left,” Council President Eric VanBuren said following the marathon discussion.

There’s always the chance that March is going to be a lion, he added.

“I’d say that what we’re doing now in terms of temporary no parking is helping to get the streets cleaned up the best that we can,” he said. “We’ll continue with the current policy as we move along to a better solution.”

“We’re working toward partnering with the county,” he said. “The city’s overall parking policy needs to be reviewed.”

Oswego School Chief: Budget Process Held Hostage By Gov. Cuomo
School district budget planning is always a stressful, emotional and time-consuming process. But this year, it was much more difficult.

In early March, the Oswego City School District Board of Education met for committee and regular sessions, but the spotlight was on an item that wasn’t even listed on the agenda…the budget.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is basically holding school districts throughout the state hostage as he refuses to allow a state aid run.

In the past, districts have received this information after the governor presents a budget proposal, but this year the state leader changed the game plan. Apparently, he will not release the runs until after a budget is adopted.

This creates a massive problem for school districts and especially in Oswego where there are “two elephants in the room.”

Oswego Superintendent of Schools Ben Halsey indicated that formulating a budget is difficult enough without state numbers, but in the case of his district there is also pending negotiations with the nuclear power plant.

Currently, the nuclear power  plant is on the tax rolls. In the past the plant was covered under a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement. That has expired.

There apparently has been little progress in working toward an agreement and a reduction in assessed value could mean millions of lost tax money for the district, thus affecting local taxpayers.

This was the first budget discussion of the year.

Halsey said that he had supplied the board members with information that  included “need and wish list items as well as big ticket items” and that budget number would be $85 million as compared to the current $79.9 million budget.

Also included in that figure is money relating to the nuclear power plant impact whether is remains on the tax rolls or receives another PILOT agreement.

He said, “I anticipate that at the next board meeting (district business manager) Nancy (Squiers) and I will make a formal power point presentation showing you the scenarios of expenditures and how they match up with anticipated revenues. We will show you what the gap would be if there was a gap.”

He explained “there are too many unknowns in the budget process right now to do a presentation that would have any merit to you.”

The Oswego City School District Board of Education had to adopt its budget by April 24 to present to the voters on May 19.

In years past, the budget process has usually lasted five months. This year, the board of education will be lucky if it has five weeks to present a financial budget proposal that impacts the students and taxpayers.

Katko Listens, Shares Ideas For Economic Development
The Oswego Common Council Chambers were filled to standing-room-only capacity in early March.

For about an hour, freshman U.S. Congressman John Katko responded to questions regarding economic development in Oswego County. For a time, he met one-on-one with some people following the session. Katko said he was overwhelmed by the attendance. It shows that the community cares and that’s a really good thing, he said.

The event was moderated by Jeff Grimshaw, director of the Office of Business and Community Relations at SUNY Oswego. It included Zelko Kirincich, executive director of the Port of Oswego Authority; Pat Carroll, business manager at United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 73; Theresa Himes, owner of Bosco and Geers Food Market; and L. Michael Treadwell, executive director of Operation Oswego County, as panelists.

Katko thanked the large crowd “for taking part in this exercise in democracy.”

“Lake Ontario is a jewel. The port is a jewel; I think it’s under-utilized. I want to help with that. I want to help with the economic development here,” he said.

Economic development “is not exactly robust here,” he pointed out.

“We’ve got to change that,” he said. “It’s a tall order. But, I think that together we can. You have to have a ‘can do spirit.’ We want to get to the point where not just the parents live in Oswego and the kids live elsewhere. We want the kids to live here with their kids and their grand kids.”

That will only happen if there is economic opportunity, Katko said, adding that Oswego is a wonderful place to live and raise kids.

He said he’s excited about some of the things happening already.

“You’ve got some bright spots. You have some good things here, but you need some more,” he said. “We are going to change things here. It starts by listening and that’s why we’re here tonight.”

To help facilitate that, he has opened a satellite office in City Hall.

“If you want families to stay together in Upstate New York, you have to have economic development for them. You can’t have kids paying on student loans that are double the rate of what it costs someone to get a 30-year mortgage on a home,” Katko continued. “That’s insane. Kids come in with so much debt; they want to stay here, but they have to go elsewhere to make money to pay their bills. And that’s not good. That’s something we need to address.”

Oswego Woman Wins Millions Playing Scratch-Off Game
An Oswego woman was set for life after she won the “Set For Life” scratch-off game.

Nancy Howard bought the winning ticket at the Kinney Drugs on West Bridge Street in Oswego.

She opted to take the one-time payment of $4,186,978. After withholdings, she received $2,770,942.

Howard planned to invest and make some home improvements and then perhaps visit her son in Oregon.

Local Law Proposed To Help Taxpayers Save
The Common Council was looking to help people improve their properties and not get hit in the wallet for it.

To that end, Fifth Ward Councilor Bill Barlow proposed implementing a new local law that would give homeowners incentive to make capital improvements.

The proposed local law would allow for the exemption from taxes that portion of an increase in assessment to residential buildings occurring as a result of capital improvement, according to assistant city attorney Tom Reynolds.

This proposal “is very similar” to what the county legislature approved, Barlow pointed out.

“This does essentially the same thing only it emphasizes work on residential buildings,” he said.

Many people are hesitant to make improvements “if the assessor is just going to come, jack up my assessment and my taxes will go up higher than they already are,” Barlow pointed out.

“This provides some incentive, encourages you to invest in your own home,” he said.

When your new assessment is given, for the first year the difference between your old assessment and new assessment is not taxed, he explained. The next year, it is taxed 12.5 percent and it is taxed 12.5 percent year after year the ninth year, at which point you new reassessment is totally taxed, Barlow explained.

Oswego Police, Fire Departments Welcome New Officers
The Oswego City Fire Department increased its ranks by four and announced two promotions March 26.

During the same ceremony, the Oswego City Police Department welcomed six new officers. They also announced five promotions.

Mayor Tom Gillen welcomed everyone to the standing-room-only ceremony in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

“It’s a pleasure, a real honor, for me to perform this ceremony. It’s quite an event and it’s good to see the community turn out like this,” he said. “This is the lifeblood of our community. We talk about housing, streets and plows and potholes … but without these people here, this city wouldn’t be what it is. We owe them our respect and appreciation.”

Sworn in as firefighters were: Kevin Davis, Jordan Patrick, Anthony Sterio and Matthew Alton. Peter Coffey was promoted to the rank of deputy chief. Jon Chawgo was promoted to the rank of assistant chief.

The police department also welcomed some new officers.

Sworn in as police officers were: Matthew Zaccaria, Jaime Nielsen, Trevor Williams, Justin Grasso, Lysa Dolin and Tom Grover. John Chodubski, Lorie Burger and Tom Rupert were promoted to the rank of sergeant. Zac Misztal and Chris Pooler were promoted to the rank of lieutenant.