OSWEGO, NY – In a relatively short State of the County address Thursday, the Chairman of the legislature praised legislators for a job well done in 2016 while stressing more needs to be done this year to keep Oswego County headed in a positive direction.
“What a difference a year makes,” Chairman Kevin Gardner said. At this time last year, the county was worried about losing about 650 jobs (at the FitzPatrick nuclear plant), he added.
“What we did as a legislature is we didn’t walk away … What we did was we were assertive and we chose different things to do to fill in the void that could possibly happen,” he said. “Every one of you (legislators) has made a difference in making Oswego County great. Every one of you stood together and helped.”
Great things have happened in recent years in Oswego County that have changed the perspective of how local government operates, Gardner said.
“We, as a collective team, have made great strides in securing the financial future of Oswego County. After many hours of meetings, debates, data studies, and interactive discussions we have been successful in several endeavors,” he said.
As examples, he pointed to:
• This legislature established the first-ever land bank in Oswego County. This will help all municipalities, from the cities to the towns clean up zombie properties.
• The county hired Bonadio financial consultants to help find ways to cut costs in the Department of Social Services. That effort produced savings of more than $100,000 for the taxpayers.
• The county needs to better understand the services provided by its public safety departments. Therefore, it’s requesting an RFP for a study that will gather data and help the legislature make effective changes.
• The legislature approved the purchase of a new accounting software package. The new “munis” system will be implemented by the end of the year. The county is running on a 20-plus year-old system. The new system will be much more efficient and will provide real-time numbers to review.
The county has made many friends in Albany and Washington, the chairman said.
He thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his help over the years. Gardner also extended a big thank you to State Senator Patty Ritchie, Assemblyman Will Barclay and Assemblyman Bob Oaks. All three have worked to make Oswego County a better place to live, work and raise a family, he added.
Congressman John Katko has been fighting for tougher drug laws for Oswego County and continues to champion the efforts for a marine sanctuary and to make Fort Ontario and Safe Haven a national park, the chairman pointed out.
He broached the subject of the possibility of municipal consolidation to save taxpayers money and make government more efficient.
Gardner also thanked Oswego County Today and other local media, for “making the news an additional positive resource toward improving Oswego County.”
I bet you have never heard that from a Legislature Chairman before,” he quipped.
“To all the county employees, thank you for all the hard work you’ve done,” he said.
Night meetings will also be considered to allow more residents the chance to attend, he said.
“I will ask the legislature to vote this year to change night meetings in July and August for this year only; that will give us a four-month run of night meetings,” he said.
“I want to thank each and every one of you, this legislature, for never losing sight of the common goal to improve Oswego County. We all have our own opinions o f what would be best for our individual areas, but thank you for always being mindful that the entire county has to be considered when enacting change. Thank you for listening to one another and being respectful while making your point or opinion known and understood,” he said.
“To the legislature, don’t take ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ for an answer. Question everything! Debate each other with integrity and mutual respect. Thank you for making 2016 actually a great year for Oswego County. I am looking forward to a very promising 2017,” he continued.
The county dodged a bullet last year with the nuke plant, Minority Leader Frank Castiglia said, adding “I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. I want to make sure that we start looking at our budget now.”
Castiglia said the biggest issue the chairman brought up was consolidation.
“I’m glad he is considering that,” he told Oswego County Today. “I’m onboard with that.”
“I’d say we had a very successful 2016. What we did was we worked on efficiencies, we saw a lot of savings, which lead to a really successful budget. And, within that budget, we put monies aside to do additional studies – economic development studies and others,” Majority Leader Shane Broadwell said. “I’d say working through efficiencies and investing money, what I’d say is investing in the county’s future, are in those programs.”
“I wouldn’t say bad times are behind us; we need to start to plan on how do we make this county successful – in the long-term, absent of nuclear? We have to start to plan for that now,” he added. “With where we were, the sky was falling at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, to go through 2016 I think everybody worked together really well.”
He added that now, the legislators need to continue to work together “on connecting the dots – infrastructure, sewer districts water districts – how do we link these things? What can we do to make life better for everyone in Oswego County? We need to work with our municipalities then we can grow in other areas.”
Broadwelll is also in favor of consolidation.
“Instead of X amount of people doing their own sewers for example, let’s work as a whole, let’s start to connect the dots and see where we can grow our infrastructure,” he said. “That will enhance the possibility of new jobs coming to this area.”