FULTON, NY – After news came out of a consolidation grant opportunity for Oswego County that potentially considered conducting a study to better understand the option to dissolve the city of Fulton, residents approached the Common Council in opposition.
The grant, the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition, “is a program designed to support counties and other local governments to pursue opportunities for consolidation, shared services, and local government modernizations that reduce the property tax burden,” according to information from the NYS Department of State.
Specifically, in order to qualify for up to $20 million of award money, Oswego County must provide intent and strategy within a Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Plan that outlines a consolidation among at least two municipalities within the county.
Oswego County Legislator Frank Castiglia Jr., D-Fulton, suggested to the Fulton Common Council that the city look into the grant and the opportunity to follow through with a feasibility study to determine whether dissolving the city of Fulton would be financially beneficial.
Director of Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning, Dave Turner explained that dissolving Fulton would be one viable option to fit the criteria of the grant if both the city and another municipality within the county offering to accept the city were willing to venture the study together.
However, the idea to dissolve the city of Fulton ultimately did not sit well with the city’s mayor, Ronald Woodward Sr., the Common Council, and a number of city residents who approached the Common Council with concerns at a regular meeting held Tuesday, January 17.
Joan Nucifora, although having lived elsewhere for several years, was born in Fulton and has remained more than twenty years since returning. Nucifora said Castiglia’s suggestion to dissolve the city “seems to be a very bad idea,” a topic she recalls speaking on nearly one year ago as well.
“The idea dissolve means: to do away with, to cause to disappear, to destroy. Now why would anyone want to do a study to find out if we should destroy Fulton? It boggles my mind,” she continued.
Nucifora went on to list “many positive things happening in the city” including Friends of Fulton Parks, Lake Neatahwanta revitalization, Fulton Footpaths, Fulton Block Builders and more.
“With so many positives, why is there this destructive urge here to dissolve Fulton?” she questioned.
If there was a different approach, however, she said the message may be better received.
“If he has in mind some sort of consolidation or some sort of restructuring, word it that way. Do not use the word dissolve, it means destroy. If it does have a more positive goal, then word it differently and conceptualize it differently,” she suggested. “But if a house needs better plumbing, you don’t burn down the house.”
She finished by noting her hope that the council would vote no on the matter.
In response, Mayor Woodward assured that after a conference call with County Planning, the Fulton Common Council has unanimously agreed that they are not willing to participate in the MCEC.
He added that since the grant opportunity was announced, which he referred to as “one of the governor’s brainchild’s,” his office has received numerous phone calls and emails in opposition of the idea of dissolving from both city residents and neighboring towns and villages that did not approve of absorbing the city.
“If it’s such a great idea, pass a law and do it to every city and everybody will save a ton of money,” Woodward said, sparking applause from a member of the public in attendance.
Joe Trovato also spoke to the council to share his concern.
“I think dissolving would be devastating for taxpayers,” he said, citing less funding for towns and villages than cities and using the neighboring village of Hannibal as a reference which, “just closed their library and has had problems with their sports and school for lack of funds.”
He then questioned city services, specifically asking if the city of Fulton would then turn to an all volunteer fire department in the event that the city did dissolve.
Mayor Woodward interjected, saying he looked into the aid of nearby villages within the county with the largest amount reaching $38,000 whereas the city of Fulton receives $1,600,000 in aid.
“Exactly, it might look good on paper but I think the taxpayer’s will see the deterioration of their quality of life and I think we’ll be looking back five years from now saying, ‘wish we didn’t do that,’” Trovato said.
Woodward was adamant that the Common Council was unanimously in agreement to not participate in the grant opportunity.
“I won’t give up on Fulton,” Mayor Woodward assured. “I was born here in 1949 in the old Fulton hospital that was on Fourth Street then. I’m not going anywhere and I can see things getting better, we just have to hang in there and you’ve got to sometimes grow thick skin and let things roll off you. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
As of last week (Jan. 13), Turner confirmed that thus far there were no municipalities in the county that had come forward with interest to participate in the MCEC.
Turner said he had several conversations with mayors, superintendents, and clerks of various cities, towns, and villages within the county to discuss the shared opportunity and encourage them to talk together and share any ideas or inquiries.
“As far as the county as an eligible applicant, we’ve done what we needed to do. We can’t go further unless two communities step forward and say they’re interested,” Turner said.
County officials would need to submit a letter of intent to the state by January 27 with at least two municipalities offering to explore the possibilities of the grant in order to be eligible.
As of now, there are no official confirmations of any communities that are interested, according to Turner.