2018 State of the City Address
Hon. William J. Barlow Jr.
January 30, 2018
Traditionally, the State of the City Address is delivered in the Common Council Chambers at City Hall without much fanfare or excitement. For the past many, many years, perhaps even decades, the mandatory delivery of the State of the City was probably viewed as more of an obligation the mayor had to perform rather than an opportunity to provide an exciting update to the public on the progress being made by city government.
The State of the City Address is the opportunity to deliver a specific, concise message and story to the Common Council and city residents and this year, the message and story is easy to deliver. The message is progress. The story is revival. The fact is we are an entirely different community than we were two short years ago and that is what I intend to illustrate this evening.
Every year, pursuant to the Oswego City Charter, the mayor shall report to the Oswego Common Council a statement of the general affairs of the city, otherwise known as the State of the City. But to fully understand where we are now and how far we’ve come, we should recognize where we were when we began.
Where We Were
Sadly, we were a struggling community two years ago. Before taking office in 2016, the city was plagued with years of indecision and inaction. City property taxes increased nearly 60% over four years along with significant increases to water and sewer fees. Our code enforcement program and permitting system was ineffective and in complete disarray. Our city infrastructure and roads were deteriorating, our municipal buildings were neglected, neighborhoods were losing value and the same problems persisted and compounded year after year, mayor after mayor, council after council. City leaders were not properly allocating resources or encouraging private investment. Our local businesses were left to fend for themselves without a partner at City Hall. Our largest community employers were without a reliable local government advocate. Worse yet, this was not just a momentary lapse. The issues city government was dealing with, or neglecting to deal with, were serious problems that had been going on and growing for decades and were now coming home to roost. The indecision displayed by city government over those many years only made matters worse. Except for a few motivated groups and individuals, community pride was relatively absent, residents were lacking a reason to get engaged and the bottom line was city government was not sending the right message or pulling its own weight.
But fortune favors the bold and in two short years we’ve made dramatic and undeniable progress.
What We Did
With the help of the Common Council, we started from the ground up and went to work on several issues right out of the gate. We revamped the city website, privatized the management of our wastewater facilities, completed over $1.5 million in city road paving projects including the “forks in the road” on State Route 104, created and executed a five-year capital investment plan and allocated more DPW resources to downtown. Last year, we finally instituted debit and credit card payment capabilities at City Hall, we put the Common Council meetings back up on television by partnering with WBUC, we made the boat launch at Wright’s landing free to city residents, shortened the city foreclosure process from four years to two years and began a comprehensive re-write of the entire city zoning code.
We expanded our summer concert series at Veteran’s Park and allocated funding to improve the 4th of July Celebration and the Christmas Tree lighting event. We brought the Oswego Stampede Hockey Team, a tier three Junior A team from Morrisville and relocated them to Oswego. If you’re an Oswego resident and you’ve fallen on hard financial times and have a pet, you can go to the City Animal Shelter where we’ve established a 100% donation driven pet pantry where you can get the essential needs for your pet. We added a pickle ball court to Shapiro Park, completed a beautification project at East Park, dramatically invested and enhanced our city-owned Charles E Gallagher Pool making it handicap accessible, banned the use of herbicides in city parks, re-opened State Route 48 and saved the city a substantial sum of money in the process. We turned six dilapidated city homes over to the Oswego County Land Bank to be rehabilitated or demolished to reduce neighborhood blight.
We also saved the city money by partnering with CiTi BOCES and the students’ work has already begun on the demolition of blighted houses, which will further improve our neighborhoods while providing the students with real hands-on training that will serve them well after graduating and provide our community with the next generation of skilled laborers.
Speaking of saving the city money, we’ve made city government much more efficient and I would argue we have improved city services while doing so. City government today operates on $2 million less than it did the day I took office and with fewer employees. We had to deal with budget shortfalls because of lost revenue and we’ve actually invested heavily in our city buildings and infrastructure because we were committed to shrinking city government and cutting waste. We addressed overtime at the Oswego Fire Department and we recently implemented a night shift at the DPW in the summer time and implemented a 24/7 operation at the department during the winter months. Because of these changes, citywide overtime is down 30%, from over $1,228,000 in 2015 to $857,000 in 2017. Now that we have cut waste, streamlined, consolidated, found efficiencies and translated that waste to cost savings while responsibly investing in our infrastructure, buildings and equipment, we now find our city on solid financial footing.
Our sewer projects continue to be a massive challenge but we have made gains in that area as well. I took office fresh off of a sewer rate increase that passed in December of 2015. When I took office, the city of Oswego was not able to apply for grant funding assistance for the sewer separation projects, the expense largely responsible for the high sewers bills in the city. After opening a line of communication with our state and federal officials we became eligible to apply. Two years later we have applied for and received $5 million in funding for various projects associated to the sewer separation project and our wastewater facilities. We implemented a commercial sewer rate in the city so our heavier industrial users are finally paying their fair share and we continue to negotiate expired contracts with various entities that actually produce revenue for the city of Oswego rather than create an expense. These unfair and poorly negotiated contracts and rates virtually required the city homeowner to subsidize larger users and outside users. Those days are over as this administration is committed to putting city residents first.
Reversing the Course
I’m highlighting all of these accomplishments today because all of these smaller successes helped to change the identity and the direction we were moving as a community. We used to be a community in complete freefall but we are now on the rise and must pivot from being a community simply trying to survive in 2015 to maintaining our recent resurgence and capitalize on our revival in 2018. It’s time to highlight who and what we are as a community in an effort to attract the residents, businesses and success we want.
The Downtown Revitalization Initiative
As you all know, we hit the ultimate homerun in July of 2016 when we applied for and won Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, $10 million to downtown economic development and planning projects. 122 applicants statewide, 10 winners. If you would’ve told somebody walking the streets of downtown Oswego that in November of 2015 they would’ve said “you’re crazy.” All told, in just two years we’ve captured over $18 million in grant money and brought it home to Oswego to be infused into our community and now we will begin to see the fruits of that grant money show up for all to see. Two of the projects contained in the DRI will be city administered projects and will improve public space in our downtown later this summer.
Our riverfront was a critical component to our DRI application and encouraging visitors and residents to experience our west linear river walk is a focus of our general downtown revitalization plan. We have $680,000 to improve our river walk area and my vision is to transform Water Street to give it much more character and flavor. Visual improvements to Water Street and enhancements to the parking lot will provide a more comfortable feel for pedestrians and business customers in that area and a proposed mini pocket park will give folks an area to congregate and spend time in the middle of downtown. This proposal will enhance a very unique area of our community and allow us to take better advantage of our riverfront.
Secondly, State Route 104 divides our downtown. I’ve always said that 104 prevents the current momentum and progress we are seeing on the south side of 104 from spreading north. By improving and softening these two major intersections we will eliminate a gigantic deterrent to pedestrians and foot traffic. If we do this correctly, this project will be a game changer for downtown Oswego and downtown businesses. These proposed changes will help encourage pedestrians to cross that intersection and I believe will increase economic activity on the north side of 104. This project is a major component to our downtown as we work to become a more pedestrian friendly and walkable community. The $1 million from the DRI and another $500,000 grant we won in 2016 will allow us to complete this project, help our small businesses and transform the heart of downtown Oswego. Both of these projects have been designed and are on schedule to happen in late summer, coinciding with the State Route 104 repave project by New York State.
Building on Momentum
This Spring, I will look to build off of these two projects from the DRI. I believe city government can not rely solely on the grant money we have already won to keep propelling us forward. We need to continue making progress and investing in our city to convey the right message. Route 104 is our main corridor and a major thoroughfare. On an average day, 25,000 motorists cruise down 104 and see our community. Every motorist is an opportunity to tell our story and send a message. This corridor should be the best looking street in our community and currently it is arguably our worst and that is unacceptable.
In the five-year capital plan I included funding to improve the entrance and appearance to the forks in the road intersection. This intersection is the first glimpse visitors, SUNY students, SUNY families and commuters see pulling into Oswego from the west. This intersection is their first impression and in 2018, first impressions matter. With cooperation from the NYS DOT, we will complete a $150,000 public space enhancement project in this important area so when a person drives into town for the first time or is passing through on their commute to and from work, we send the right message and make a positive first impression.
We also will send the right message by investing equally on both sides of the river. The east side has long been the forgotten side of our community and that needs to change. Continuing our improvements to our major thoroughfare along State Route 104 will also include the gateway area into the eastside of downtown and I will propose to the Common Council in the coming months a $40,000 project that will change this area from an underwhelming piece of underutilized property, to a piece of property projecting positivity and pride.
Simple beautification projects and basic public space enhancements require minor investment and produce tangible returns and a project like this, similar to the retaining wall we did last year in Washington Square, can dramatically improve an area.
Using Our Assets
The Fort Ontario complex is an important part to this community. We use the assets in this complex like Safe Haven, Fort Ontario, the city pool, the Oswego Players’ theater and the city ice rink to attract visitors and highlight our history and culture. Currently, one major entrance into this area of town is lackluster and uninviting. This area also happens to be a residential neighborhood. I propose we make a modest investment to enhance this area and improve this neighborhood. There has been some residential investment activity in this area and we need to do our part to improve this section of town as well. I also am announcing this evening an art mural competition administered by the economic development office. We are looking to the local arts community and local artists to submit proposals for a mural and artwork to be used on the Fort Tunnel. This mural, along with the city investment, will drastically improve this entryway and no longer be an eyesore to the neighborhood.
Last year along West Seneca Street we worked with the neighbors in the area to try new and different techniques to better control the amount of traffic down Seneca Street and better manage vehicle speed by implementing traffic calming measures and speed deterrents along the roadway. This Fall we will proceed with our $490,000, ¾ mile Seneca Street Bikeway project dramatically enhancing the Franklin Square neighborhood and making Seneca Street a much safer and slower roadway which is much more conducive to live-ability and neighborhood growth than what exists there currently. These massive municipal planning blunders from the past will continue to haunt our community and deter growth if they are not corrected and that is why this project and other similar projects are important to see through to completion in an effort to sustain our current forward momentum.
Similarly, our waterfront is still underutilized and not totally appreciated. We all understand that being a waterfront community is an advantage we have, but what are we doing to capitalize on this advantage and how can we encourage more recreational use of our water and waterfront property? I’m amazed at how few Oswego residents take the time to walk along our river walks and along the Harbor Trail of Lake Ontario. Immediately after taking office in 2016 we did a comprehensive waterfront feasibility study. Even before we conducted the feasibility study, I had a project in mind that I felt needed to be done and should’ve been done a long, long time ago. It is unacceptable to have what should be the most picturesque scene in the city along the water appear the way it does today. I propose we enhance the Oswego Harbor Trail around the bottom of Breitbeck Park and along our lake shore by combining funding from different sources to begin a $150,000 project to clean up this walkway and make it look and feel the way it should. We secured $590,000 to perform marina and waterfront enhancements and I propose we use some of that money in addition to a small city investment to dramatically improve this recreational trail because this trail along our waterfront is a gem and needs to be treated accordingly. Enhancing this area will incentivize people to actually acknowledge our waterfront and the beautiful natural assets we have in our own backyard.
Assets like the Oswego Lighthouse are unique cultural assets that make our community what it is. The symbol of the Oswego Harbor is the iconic Oswego Lighthouse and if you’ve been out on the water lately you know it has seen better days. The Oswego Lighthouse Committee is comprised of a group of dedicated volunteers through the H. Lee White Maritime Museum who’ve worked on renovating, preserving and promoting the lighthouse.
They’ve opened the lighthouse for narrated tours for the public and if you have not been on a lighthouse tour, I highly recommend doing so this summer to witness the good work this committee has done firsthand. Several members of the Lighthouse Committee are here tonight and I’d like you to join me in offering them a round of applause for their efforts. The Oswego Lighthouse will receive a $100,000 exterior paint job this summer thanks to the help of Assemblyman Will Barclay. I’m excited to announce this evening that in addition to the $100,000 from Assemblyman Barclay, the city will allocate another $75,000 through our LWRP grant funding for other renovation and preservation improvements. We received $500,000 to preserve City Hall last month because we recognize how important these historical assets are to our community and I remain committed to preserving these important pieces of our community fabric for generations to come.
Over the last two years, we have laid out the pieces to the puzzle and the roadmap to success. That success means attracting new residents, retaining our current residents and properly promoting our community using our neighborhoods, parks and waterfront. Local assets are important to accomplishing this goal. The quality of parks, neighborhoods, streets and buildings are all important ingredients to becoming a competitive Central New York community along with city amenities. Public amenities are proven to be a major selling point to prospective home buyers as they look to re-locate and decide where to live and raise their family. My administration from the beginning has placed a premium on improving our existing amenities but we need to give families even more reasons to choose Oswego.
As a dog owner, I can confidently say that pets are considered family. During my campaign and during my tenure as mayor, bringing a dog park to the city of Oswego may be one of the most desired amenities this community is asking for and tonight I am happy to announce in the Spring of 2018 we will open the city of Oswego Dog Park for our pets to enjoy. Bringing this new feature to the Oswego community will be yet another asset we can use to promote and advance our city. The addition of a dog park is just another enhancement we’ve made to non-productive public space as we continue our campaign of improving our parks, investing in our community and positioning our city to thrive in the future by becoming more attractive to working class families.
These projects are important targeted investments that I know can make a difference in our community. They project pride, confidence, momentum and improvement and that is why last year in the city budget through the Common Council we allocated $40,000 to overhaul the Kingsford Park School Playground and chipped in $5,000 to help the Leighton School Playground. These areas of town are the face of our community and we must ensure we are sending the right message to residents, prospective residents and visitors alike. That message however is not exclusive to just our major thoroughfares and public space. It is equally important in our neighborhoods and we need to continue making targeted, smart and direct investments into our neighborhoods by way of productive code enforcement.
Code Enforcement- A Key to Success
We hit the ground running in 2016 and quickly went to work on projecting the proper message of being a business friendly community and a local government that encourages, expedites and simplifies the development and construction process by erecting an actual Code Enforcement Department. We immediately simplified and expedited the building and permitting process so both business owners and home owners who wanted to invest and improve their property could do so and city government would help guide them through that bureaucratic and frustrating process. We’ve significantly increased the amount of building and rental permits the city has issued compared to years past because of two reasons: We simplified the process and properly allocated our resources and attention to encourage growth and investment. Because we simplified the process we have more people coming into City Hall on their own to work through the proper permitting channels rather than trying to do projects and avoid city government because of previous bad experiences. Due to these positive changes, we’ve seen signs of progress being made all over the community already in the form of residential and small to medium size commercial projects.
Simultaneously, our top priority in terms of code enforcement is addressing blighted rental properties in our neighborhoods and holding negligent city landlords accountable. For decades, these issues went unaddressed and going toe-to-toe with city landlords was viewed as a political battle the city wasn’t willing to fight and could not win.
Perhaps the proudest accomplishment thus far in my term as mayor is putting an end to that mentality and culture. We have passed legislation, conducted code enforcement sweeps, shut down and condemned property, evicted tenants, publicized violation lists and defeated landlords in court. These changes have undoubtedly had a positive impact on the greater community, changed the culture and raised the expectations the city and our homeowners have for neighboring rental property. Times have changed in Oswego and finally tenants, home owners and neighbors have a voice and will no longer fall victim to the ignorant landlord who is incapable of being considerate to the surrounding neighbors. The city of Oswego will side with the neighboring home owner every time and with the help of the new Common Council we will continue to challenge landlords and raise expectations even higher in 2018. The numbers speak for themselves. When the city invests in the code enforcement department the return on investment is more obvious here than in any other service in city government. As we build and continue to expand the code enforcement department, the rental permits increase and the building permits increase. Documented code complaints have increased 381% in two years and the number of official violations has risen 333% those same two years. As the office became more productive and effective in the last two years, it actually began to generate revenue and pay for itself.
But more importantly, the results are becoming evident in our neighborhoods. Neighbors and tenants are now empowered and feel comfortable turning in a blighted and neglected property knowing that complaint will not fall on deaf ears. We’ve actually started to see code cases through and hold property owners accountable when a violation is issued and the deadline is not met. We’ve even taken on the most infamous city landlords and shut their properties down. That bold action has produced gigantic returns in many different forms, all for the betterment of this community. It is for these reasons that I will propose to the Common Council before the next construction season the recommendation to allocate funding and add one more full-time code enforcer to our code department staff as another pair of eyes out in our neighborhoods. It is proven to work, so let’s continue building our code enforcement program and keep improving our neighborhoods and quality of life.
I strongly believe we will need that additional code enforcer in our neighborhoods because I intend to double down on our aggressive code enforcement program and make it even stronger and more effective. I will shortly propose legislation to the Common Council that will allow the city of Oswego to cite a property that is in violation of the city code for issues like peeling paint, a deteriorating façade and other basic visual violations that negatively affect the appearance of our neighborhoods and the value of nearby properties. This legislation will allow the city to hire a contractor to conduct the repair work needed to bring the property back into compliance with the code. The money spent on repairing the home, together with fines and surcharges will be applied to the property owner’s tax bill. The fines and chargers will allow this program to become self sufficient and act as a revolving loan repair fund program at no recurring expense to Oswego taxpayers. We have $44,000 in seed money from grant funding already to start this revolving fund and along with this legislation I will propose the city matches that funding so we can be expeditious and aggressive in its implementation.
To further strengthen our enforcement by implementing firm consequences for property code violators, I have directed our law department and code enforcement department to increase our level of enforcement for nuisance violations by prioritizing and expediting the prosecution process for these offenses and get these violators to city court in a timely manner. This will undoubtedly take a large amount of time and resources, but these irritating neighborhood issues need to finally be dealt with. I propose expanding our area of code enforcement to take on more “quality of life” violations and increase the level of fines and other penalties so it is more cost effective to fix the problem than to pay a meaningless fine and continue to violate the code and detract from our neighborhoods. This approach will make our enforcement efforts proactive and hopefully prevent the violation from occurring in the first place, rather than reactive. If we can stop these types of issues from happening, we will improve our neighborhoods and boost resident confidence.
A home owner with confidence in their neighborhood is more apt to invest in their property and as a city councilor in 2015 I introduced local legislation that encourages home improvement projects and residential investment in the city. Typically, residents fear making an improvement to their home will result in their property taxes sky rocketing because of an increase in assessment. This legislation prevents that tax hike from happening because we exempt the value of the improvement from being fully taxed for eight years, including a 100% exemption on the value the first year. This legislation, over eight years, can save properties owners a sizeable amount of money. As written, this law is set to expire in April, so I will be asking the Common Council to renew this legislation immediately and insert a provision making this law permanent without needing to be renewed for as long as I’m mayor.
The county has also passed this legislation and I urge our county officials to renew this legislation with the same provision. I also would like to take the opportunity to ask the Oswego City School District to join the city of Oswego and the county of Oswego and adopt this residential home improvement exemption legislation. The school district’s participation would make this legislation applicable to all taxing entities in the city and would make the potential savings more enticing and meaningful to those who wish to take advantage of this law. Surely, encouraging home improvement projects and residential investment is something we can all get behind and support.
I’d be remiss if I did not point out that our code enforcement efforts alone are not solely responsible for the recent progress we’ve made in neighborhood revitalization. In fact, our code enforcement program is intentionally designed to compliment and supplement the incredible work the Oswego Renaissance Association has accomplished over the last few years. With the support from Pathfinder Bank and the Shineman Foundation, the Oswego Renaissance Association has gone block by block through Oswego neighborhoods leveraging over $2 million in private investment with a four-to-one return ratio on grant investment and I’d like to take a moment and ask the executive director of the ORA Mr. Paul Stewart, President of Pathfinder Bank Tom Schneider and Director of the Shineman Foundation Ms. Karen Goetz to stand, and offer them a round of applause for the difference they’ve made in our city.
Another component to our code enforcement program is our City Section 8 Rental Assistance HUD Housing program. A major accomplishment in 2017 was reshaping the rental assistance program in the city of Oswego. At the end of last year, my administration worked to improve our rental assistance HUD housing program while improving the perception of the program within the community. We’ve made the city HUD housing inspector a full-time position and we’ve synced our HUD housing inspector into our code enforcement program so we can supplement our efforts and be more effective when it comes to inspecting the interior of apartment units. Last month, I unveiled a series of proposals and the Common Council approved those proposals and committed to reforming the City of Oswego HUD Section 8 Rental Assistance Program to incorporate a workforce development component for workable families, to transition the assistance from a government subsidized ‘handout’ program to a constructive ‘hand up’ program.
We executed a memorandum of understanding between the city of Oswego and Oswego County Workforce Development Board to refer and encourage clients to participate in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program and other employment-related programs. We also re-prioritized the ranking system used to place individuals on the program to offer priority to households with members that are currently working part time, enrolled in education or participating in a vocational training program. The changes to the ranking system will also place military veterans higher on the priority list, while placing individuals from outside the city of Oswego at the lowest priority to stop voucher importing. This drastic change places the focus on those in our community who are working, advancing their education and trying to raise a family who simply need a bit of extra help to make ends meet. We increased the housing standard requirement by requiring a rental permit and applied the housing standards set forth in the city code, for apartment units participating in our rental assistance program to ensure those landlords receiving payment in the form of a taxpayer funded check are meeting their legal and moral obligations. I believe these changes will actually help lift people out of poverty rather than continuing the generational poverty trend we’ve experienced throughout Oswego County. By offering more resources to individuals, prioritizing those working, going to school and raising a family, improving living conditions and raising expectations for housing units on the HUD program throughout the city, we are better positioning our neighbors and fellow community members to succeed.
Combating Poverty to Help Our Neighbors
In 2016, the city of Oswego was the recipient of a $500,000 New York State Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative grant as a way to help localities find ways to address poverty in their community. I appointed a committee identified by the acronym “LIFT”, Learn, Identify, Focus, Transform. We want to take this funding and make resources available to not simply be a hand out subsidy to individuals in poverty, but rather be a tool to actually permanently lift them out of poverty. After conducting an in-depth needs assessment study and a poverty simulation exercise, we developed an RFP emphasizing the need for improved housing for low income individuals, more access to workforce development programs and more assistance to those struggling with addiction and other personal issues. We received over 15 proposals and ultimately funded six programs that we believe will be productive and effective in serving low income individuals in our community. I’m proud to announce we will be partnering with Oswego County Opportunities and will fund a $162,000 program and create a “community hub” of service providers for low-income residents to easily access comprehensive services and supports. This money will be used for OCO to employ an employment and retention specialist and recruit volunteer peer specialists to work with community partners to facilitate individual and group job readiness sessions. This new community resource will work specifically to promote self sustainability and workforce development activities to help unemployed or underemployed low income individuals overcome barriers to obtaining and maintaining employment.
We will also make other allocations as we partner with the Oswego Salvation Army to implement the “Pathway to Hope” program and assist 25 families in the city of Oswego and help these families overcome barriers such as unemployment and unstable housing. This program has a reputation of producing real, tangible results and our allocation of $101,000 will directly improve the lives of these 25 families.
Additionally, we will fully fund a $26,000 program administered by Victory Transformation to improve the employability of disadvantaged groups like those who have limited work histories, personal or situational barriers, suffer from drug addictions or have mental health disabilities. We also will allocate $22,000 to the Literacy Coalition of Oswego County to encourage home reading and improve reading skills for kindergarten through fifth graders and we will fund a $27,000 transportation initiative for lower income employees of Oswego Health.
In 2017, the city of Oswego Police Department re-entered Oswego city schools with the new and updated DARE curriculum as we work to better prepare and educate our children on leading safe and healthy lives. In addition, the city of Oswego partnered with Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oaks and Eric Bresee from Farnham Family Services to implement the REAP (Rapid Evaluation for Appropriate Placement) program through the Oswego City Police Department. This initiative brings a revolutionary approach to combating illegal drug use that recognizes addiction as a disease which can benefit from medical intervention and treatment. When a member of our community makes the conscious and active decision to get help and better their self, I believe their local government should be there to help. By allowing people to willfully forfeit drugs without fear of being arrested, we have the ability to directly link a person to the appropriate level of care they need and we get drugs off city streets. We will use the Oswego LIFT anti-poverty initiative to further help those in our community who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction by allocating $55,000 to the Council on Alcoholism and Addictions in partnership with Farnham, to provide peer advocate services in the city of Oswego as our final selected project. These two hired peer advocates will become more accessible due to this funding and will directly provide identified individuals with a connection to substance abuse treatment, physical health services, mental health services and many other services that can help somebody who truly wants to help themselves. With treatment admissions for opiate addictions up 300% since 2010, turning a blind eye to this issue is not an option and we have an obligation to our community to try addressing this problem head on. These three anti-drug initiatives may be small steps, but local government and my administration will do our part to help reverse this trend and help those in our community who need it most.
My intention is to use this funding and these selected programs as pilot projects to determine and analyze their true impact once administered. If these programs deliver real results I will be prepared to gather our community partners and stakeholders together to find ways to keep these programs alive beyond the initial LIFT funding lifespan.
I firmly believe that local government, even with limited resources, can effectively help improve the lives of those in our community. The common theme in these HUD reforms and the LIFT Oswego Anti-Poverty Initiative is the workforce development component. If we arm those in our community with the skills they need to become employable, those individuals can work out of their current situation and we can collectively lift our community. After winning the election in 2015, I toured the major employers in the immediate Oswego community. I toured places like Novelis, SUNY Oswego, Oswego Health and Exelon, all entities who give back to our local community and improve our community simply by their presence and interaction. These entities are committed to hiring directly from the Oswego community but are often faced with the challenge of not having applicants from our community to choose from. I’d like to help address that problem and I feel tackling these issues through our anti-poverty task force and our HUD housing office by incorporating a workforce development component will help correct that issue.
Promoting our Hometown
At the same time, these entities explained another issue they were experiencing. They were struggling to encourage their new hires or daily commuters to consider living in the Oswego community and in the fall of 2015, maybe that dilemma was well-deserved. But we actually have a story to tell now because we are a different community. We are creating neighborhoods where working class families should want to live and we are building a downtown attractive to young professionals and we need to better inform those employees who are not familiar with our area of all our community has to offer. We need to highlight our parks, neighborhoods, waterfront, culture, local assets and major annual events that take place in this community. To do this, I have partnered with our major employers to launch the City of Oswego Resident Recruitment Initiative. The city has developed a comprehensive introduction and guide of the city of Oswego including information that highlights all we have to offer as a community. We’ve partnered with these major employers and will provide them with this packet, along with other information about our community to use when recruiting prospective employees and upon their hiring and orientation. I’d like to thank the participating entities in our community for agreeing to participate in this initiative and I am proud to live in and represent a community where our major employers are engaged and committed to encouraging their employees to live locally.
This pamphlet highlighting Oswego’s assets can help convince individuals to choose the city of Oswego and capturing these employees will result in a huge advancement for our community.
The same story also needs to be shared as it relates to tourism in order to increase interest and attract tourists to our community. We have the assets necessary to successfully attract visitors to our community on a regular basis but they need to be provided with the information to entice them to visit. We’ve invested in our 4th of July celebration, expanded our Summer Concert Series, became the home to Super DIRT week and we are transforming our waterfront. With all the changes taking place in our community, we need to inform folks from all over New York State of our recent success. With the proper resources we can make a concerted effort and be successful in adequately promoting our community. In 2016, before the opening of another major hotel, the city of Oswego generated over $230,000 in bed tax revenue for Oswego County, likely far more than any other municipality in our county. That same year the county spent a mere $45,000 in money collected from the bed tax on promoting the city of Oswego. Now, relations between the county and city have greatly improved over the last two years and we’ve partnered closely with the County Land Bank and many other issues, but we still need to work together to increase tourism and take advantage of what is transpiring in this community. I have tasked the City Promotion and Tourism Advisory Board to create a proposal using 21st Century advertising techniques like web video ads, strategic targeting, social media and event promotion and apply it to the city of Oswego. Once I receive that proposal next month, I will ask the Common Council to support that proposal and hope to have a serious conversation with the county to discuss funding our proposal using a slightly larger portion of the money our city produces in the form of bed tax revenue. We will need the support of our county legislators who represents the city to help us claim our fair share to better promote our community and capitalize on our recent accomplishments. Working together in a collaborative effort, we can make that happen.
These recent accomplishments are things this community can be proud of. We have all of our city department heads here this evening who work tirelessly, and put up with me being their boss each and every day and that alone is no easy task. These accomplishments would not have been possible without such a dedicated group of individuals and I very much appreciate the work and assistance they provide to me and the service they provide to our taxpayers and they deserve a round of applause this evening.
As an executive, having genuine, sincere and cooperative partners in the legislative branch of government is important and I could not have been any luckier to have a great group of folks on the council for my first two years in office. Our successes would not have been realized had these individuals only been interested in party politics and political games. As good as the previous council was, the 2018 Common Council with five new councilors may be even better, although it’s probably too early to tell. I look forward to working with each of you and backing up the good work done by the previous council.
Congratulations to our new Chairman of the Oswego County Legislature Shane Broadwell who has always been a great partner in county government. The Oswego County Legislature as a whole has been helpful and accommodating to city government these first couple of years, having partners at every level of government is critical to our success and I look forward to working with our partners and advocates, and I’ll ask for a collective round of applause thanking the Common Council, County Legislature and government partners here tonight.
State of the City
So what is the state of the city?
We are in a state of progress, resurgence and revival. There are positive signs of progress that are undeniable and we must seize the opportunity, keep pushing forward and capitalize on the improvements we have made.
We are going to have a very busy and a very productive 2018 as we build off the successes we’ve already shared together. We are two years in but we are just getting started. We’ve changed the direction, we’ve created the momentum and the foundation has been set. But we can not stop now. We must keep working hard and continue working together to ensure we do not slip into the same complacency, inaction, political gridlock and lack of political will power that held our community back for so long.
In closing, I’d like to extend a sincere thank you to the residents of this city. During the past few decades Oswego residents have grown accustom to the litany of tough times but have proven their resiliency time and time again and those tough times should only make our recent renaissance feel all the better. Representing this community and serving my hometown these last two years has been exhilarating, rewarding and an absolute honor. I guarantee we will continue working hard, improving services, producing results and acting on your priorities for these next two years just as we have for the last two years. That is my pledge and continued commitment to this community each and every day.
Because I strongly believe in one particular principle that I use to not only guide me in the Mayor’s Office but to guide me through life and it is quite simple. We are all on this earth for an extremely brief amount of time. And with that moment in time, the most basic obligation we have is to do everything in our power to leave this place better than we found it. That principal epitomizes the goals of this administration and is at the forefront of every decision we make… and working together we will, in every aspect, leave this city, better than we found it.
Thank you and let’s have a great 2018.