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Fulton, Oswego Councilors Share Ideas To Improve Their Cities

<br />Mayor Randy Bateman of Oswego, in the dark grey suit at left, listens along with members of the Oswego Common Council as Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward, at right, details the city's home renovation program along with members of the Fulton Common Council.
Mayor Randy Bateman of Oswego, in the dark grey suit at left, listens along with members of the Oswego Common Council as Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward, at right, details the city's home renovation program along with members of the Fulton Common Council.

Ideas flowed as members of Fulton’s and Oswego’s Common Councils came together for the first time in perhaps decades to share with each other some of the things they’re doing that work.

The meeting was spurred by the city of Fulton’s new program of renovating and selling at market value some of the homes the city seizes for unpaid taxes each year, a program detailed for the first time by Oswego County Today.com a few weeks back (the story is among those that was destroyed in the recent crash of our server).  Normally, a local government sells a seized home for the amount of taxes owed in order to get the property back on the tax rolls.

But the men and women around the table, who included Oswego’s City Attorney and representatives of each city’s Community Development Agency, discussed a number of topics, mainly focusing on issues that would improve the quality of life in each city.

Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward outlined the home renovation program, which he said is a crucial part of the goal of reducing the amount of rental property in the city and improving the city’s housing stock.  When the city decides to renovate a home, whether directly or through the Fulton Community Development Agency’s separate program for lower-income homebuyers, it will convert a two-family home back into a one-family home.

He explained to the Oswego lawmakers that city employees do as much of the renovation work as they can, but that contractors do significant portions of it.

“You gotta make an investment,” Woodward said.  “You want ’em nice, you gotta make ’em nice.”

He said the city is about a week away from finishing its first home, at 470 N. 6th St.  He expects 4 or 5 homes to be completed this year.

“We’re sure we’re gonna get mid- to high-70’s for it,” he said.  Any profits after paying contractors and back taxes will go into a fund to fix up more seized homes.

He said the percentage of rental property has declined in the city from its historic high in the 1990’s of nearly 50%, largely because of a zoning change that forces some multi-family homes to be turned back into single-family homes.

Woodward noted that a city inspector inspects every rental property over a period of several years, and that a $35 rental permit good for five years is tied to rental assistance available from the Fulton CDA to make sure the permits are up to date.

Oswego’s high percentage of rental housing for college students poses particular issues, said Bateman.  “We rarely get the taxes back on our (tax foreclosure) sales,” he said.  “What we want to prevent is to have some absentee landlord pick these houses up” because often, they’ll make only cosmetic repairs.

Oswego Alderman Connie Cosemento noted that “students often damage what’s left of an old home and now, even students don’t want to rent those places.  Quality of life issues are skyrocketing.”

Bateman noted that having a retired police officer serve as its housing inspector and investigator has paid big dividends.  “Abandoned vehicles on our streets are way down,” he said.  The inspector has the ability to issue appearance tickets for code violations, though it’s done rarely, he said.

“We have noticed a difference visually,” said Cosemento.  “More houses are spiffing up.  Landlords are starting to pay attention to this.”

Oswego’s nuisance abatement ordinance, and its points system, drew the interest of Fulton legislators.  Cosemento said that the city has simplified its points system, which used to levy a varying amount of points on properties for various types of problems.  Now, all problems, whether code-related or criminally-related, get three points.  When points total 12, the city can take increased enforcement actions.  Cosemento said that next week, councilors will discuss getting rid of the one year expiration date on points.

“It has been very effective in the college rentals,” she said.

Fulton also shared its success with its water, sewer and garbage billing program.  Woodward told Oswego Mayor Randy Bateman, “you have got to get homes on water meters.”  Oswego does not meter all municipal water users, an idea that provoked fierce opposition the last time the idea was raised.