Mayor Barlow Presents 2020 Budget Message

Mayor Billy Barlow

Dear members of the Oswego Common Council,

The proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget for the city of Oswego, New York, is hereby submitted for your consideration.

This budget is the fourth city budget I have constructed as mayor. As you know, since taking office in January of 2016, we’ve implemented and followed a strategic return on investment driven strategy, a complete contradiction to the strategy used by our predecessors.

Previously, city government felt it could “penny-pinch” its way to prosperity and worked to implement this strategy by neglecting city streets, sidewalks and infrastructure; not properly maintaining city buildings; irresponsibly ignoring the need to replace or adequately repair city equipment; and not wisely allocating resources in the areas that need it most like our neighborhoods and essential, daily city services that improve the quality of life for city residents.

Our strategy simply suggests that if you invest money in the right areas and consider what the return of that investment may be; not just monetarily but also in the form improving the community and initiating real progression, over time the financial position of the city will improve and simultaneously the investments will help attract new residents and retain current residents.

Since 2016, this administration has focused on enhancing our parks, our neighborhoods, our streets and public amenities. We’ve worked to improve our services at the Department of Public Works by updating, replacing and repairing department equipment that not only provides our employees with safe working conditions but allows us to offer better, higher quality neighborhood services to our residents. This strategy has undeniably better positioned the city of Oswego in every way, so much so that other Central New York municipalities are looking to the city of Oswego to see what we are doing and notice what is happening in this community.

Thanks to the continued commitment and hard work from all our city department heads and key personnel, we are able to control spending by finding efficiencies, streamlining processes, eliminating waste all while improving services. We are also able to mitigate the always rising cost of doing business. Ever year, similar to the private sector, the cost of payroll wages, fringe benefits, insurances, equipment, materials, and virtually everything else, increases, and typically there is nothing localities can do about it. In our case, however, we wisely negotiated labor contracts, eliminating unusual cash benefits and other expensive perks. We budget and invest strategically to reduce the cost of purchases and our relationship with Onondaga County purchasing allows us to reduce cost by contract ‘piggybacking,’ bulk purchasing and compeitive pricing. We control what we can, and make the best of what we can’t.

Last year, we reduced taxes by over 2% for our property owners. Earlier this year, we reduced the annual sewer bill by $200, without use of the general fund or any city savings account. I’m proud to stand behind our recent tax and fee reduction and offer a city budget that does not increase the tax rate or fees and once again, does not tap into our city’s general or enterprise funds to balance the budget. I remain committed to ensuring our neighbors receive the continued quality service they’ve come to expect, at the lowest possible cost so our community remains comfortable, desirable and affordable. I believe money is best left in the pockets of our hardworking taxpayers and encourage our neighbors to spend money local, stimulating our local economy, generating local sales tax revenue, that we can use to offer city services, without raising the tax rate.

This budget continues our trend of investing in city buildings, equipment and infrastructure. In the 2017 and 2018 budgets, we passed budgets with record levels of investment into city operations. We caught up on deferred maintaince, replaced outdated equipment, and took on large scale projects that had been pushed off for years. Because we strategically made those large investments, in 2019, we were able to slightly scale back our level of investment, and that strategy continues to pay dividends as we maintain a similar level of investment to 2019, and do not have to constantly budget to catch up on procrastinated expenditures.

This budget restores a city engineer budget for the first time since 2015. For years, we were fortunate to have Robert Johnson on staff who was capable of acting in the role of city engineer and running the engineering department without hiring additional personnel or drastically inflating outside consulting fees. In Spring of 2020, Mr. Johnson plans to retire from the city. I believe it to be in the best interest of the city to appropriately update the proposed salary to attract a quality replacement with the proper certifications to act as a municipal engineer. A city the size of Oswego should have a city engineer and with our several large scale infrastructure projects, design engineering, re-building and supervising our infrastructure is not an area we should skimp. I propose setting aside $120,000 to attract a quality candidate to begin work on January 1, 2020, while Mr. Johnson is still employed to minimize interruption.

I propose to continue updating our technology infrastructure and capability throughout city government by earmarking $40,000 to improve performance and operations. In addition to our expected funding for the Independence Day Parade, Summer Concert Series and other annual trademark events, I’m asking for an additional $10,000 to fund music and entertainment at the new Water Street Square for summer 2020. I’ve also submitted small increases in our parks budget and our community beautification budget. As we continue to do small to large scale improvement projects, we need to simultaneously increase the affiliated budgets for additional maintainence and upkeep. All of our improvements over the last three years will require more attention, time and energy from our Department of Public Works. With that, comes money, and if we remain committed to improving this community and carrying out projects that move this city forward, we must remain committed to ensuring our DPW has the tools they need to tend to these areas regularly.

In this budget, with the assistance of our Youth Bureau Director Brian Chetney and YMCA Director Kerrie Webb, we are funding the re-location and continuation of our contracted YMCA activities at the East Side Recreation Center and the YMCA skate park. We will re-locate and house both under the same roof at the Grace Evangelical Church on East Sixth Street. These programs are essential to our youth and need to be available in a safe, productive atmosphere.

Consolidating the locations will improve the efforts of the YMCA and give our youth a better place to spend free times off the streets.

In summary, my budget maintains the appropriate amount of investment into our municipal buildings, city equipment and public amenities. It is designed to continue improving our parks, offer current city services with the same level of quality and reduces the costs of those services. This budget, I believe, continues to move our community forward and sustain our current level of progress.

The decision is now in the hands of the Oswego Common Council on whether to accept this proposed budget or to amend it by resolution. Any amendments made by the Common Council by resolution to increase or decrease appropriations will affect the proposed tax rate. If any increase in the tax levy equals 5% or more, the amended budget must be presented to a public referendum in November per Local Law. Should the amended budget be voted down in the November election, my proposed budget will become, by default, the 2020 Operating Budget.

And it is after months of hard work and focus that I, William J. Barlow Jr., as mayor, and with the assistance of City Chamberlain Deborah Coad and all city department heads, submit the proposed city of Oswego 2020 Operating Budget to the Oswego Common Council for consideration.

August 12, 2019
William J. Barlow, Jr.
Mayor of Oswego