OSWEGO, NY – This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of formally addressing the citizens of Oswego for the purpose of presenting the State of the City. It has been only a few months since voters gave me the opportunity of a lifetime – to serve as your mayor – and it has been a busy and productive time.
As I begin today, I would like to take a moment to thank all of our city staff and employees for their hard work and dedication. The fact is that without their energy and willingness to execute the initiatives that I will be highlighting today, we simply cannot move our city forward to the extent that we want.
I would also like to thank our city council who works with my administration on a daily basis. The art of good policy cannot exist in a vacuum where no debate exists and at times we have had honest disagreement about individual policies, it has never concerned me as mayor that we all don’t have the best interests of the city in mind. So, I say again, thank you councilors for your dedication and passion.
I truly enjoy representing the people of Oswego and look forward to each day at work. I will take note of our successes and remind you of some of the challenges we still face. While being proud of our accomplishments, what I want most is to leverage the lessons that we’ve learned to build a bright future.
My vision for Oswego, when becoming mayor, was and is to provide a safe, family-friendly, environmentally clean and economically thriving community for all our residents. I have many years of experience running successful businesses that not only combine solid management techniques and a deep commitment to do things right, but also offer true leadership as we commit to do the right things.
Scrutinizing the bottom line and giving taxpayers a solid return on their investments in a timely and ethical fashion is always a priority, as is making Oswego a safer place to raise our families, a place where it is difficult to be a criminal, but easy to be a business owner.
Working with our city council, our overarching goal has been and will continue to be simply – good government.
The basic plan in providing good government is composed of three principles:
The first principle is communication.
The people of Oswego deserve a government that listens to the people – knowing that each person has different needs that must be considered and respected. There will be times when our residents disagree with my decisions on what I think is best for our city. But, as your mayor, I pledge to be truthful and honest about our policies and procedures at all times. Knowledge is a powerful tool, and I am committed to informing our citizens in an honest and truthful way all the intricacies of responsible city management.
The second principle is transparency.
Transparency and accountability in city government was a campaign platform that I made. And, it continues to be the cornerstone of my administration. It is only right that we, as public servants, provide you the taxpayers a clear view of where your tax dollars go and how they are being used and what kind of value you are receiving on your investment.
Transparency and accountability are not to be feared – that if we push aggressively towards reform and innovation, mistakes will be made on occasion – but if we make a mistake, let’s make sure it is an honest one, let’s learn from the experience and fold it into better service for our community.
The simple fact is that government should not be ashamed of posting public information in a readily accessible format that is searchable – with data that can be analyzed to spot trends and to help identify potential fraud, waste and abuse. I am delighted to be in a position to champion transparency. With this in mind, the city will be designing and implementing an all-encompassing communications site that will provide information easily to all who desire to know.
The third principle is participation.
All that I ask from the residents of Oswego, aside from civility and patience, is that each and every one of us participates in the growth and success of our city. We talk about our many natural resources like our waterfront, our history and culture, our commercial and industrial potential, our educational facilities and much more. Yet Oswego’s greatest resource is and always will be the people themselves. For centuries, people of all races and backgrounds have called Oswego their home. We are truly blessed with such as strong and resilient people – one that will continue to flourish for centuries to come.
So, let’s move into the inner workings of city government to gauge where we are as a city today.
I start my term a mayor when the city is facing fiscal challenges.
We are committed to a great environmental challenge, a consent decree where we must rethink, redesign and rebuild our city wastewater facilities. This is a multiple phase project negotiated with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Conservation that will challenge our city’s finances for years to come. We begin our budget process with a nearly $87 million shortfall over the next 12 years. This decree was not negotiable and with such a large financial commitment, we had a tough decision to make.
We chose to see this as a challenge and an opportunity. The unquestionable fact remains tat this is a significant financial burden placed on our city residents, but it is also a commitment and opportunity to provide an environmentally clean infrastructure for our current and future residents. It is also a moral decision to invest in our city and in our people. The successful completion of this project will allow us to showcase our city as a modern environmentally clean and safe, for present and prospective families, as well as the future commercial enterprises that will choose to invest in our city.
Managing a budget is challenging work, and I am proud to say that our leadership team and the great employees of this city will rise to the occasion. We have tough decisions to make and will continue to adjust the cost and size of city government so that we will have more opportunities to make wise investments in our city, our future and our valuable employees.
Because of responsible budgeting principles, we have been able to deal with the many shortfalls that this weak US economy has been struggling through over the past several years. We believe that, while we have many challenges ahead of us, we will deal with them as Oswego families have done for generations – with strength and commitment to our family values.
We’re going to keep working to make city government more productive and cost efficient because, first and foremost, I believe in a leaner government that works smarter.
I made a promise to the citizens of Oswego to be fiscally responsible and we are delivering on that promise. I respect the fact that the people of this great city work hard for their money, and it’s my job to make sure their hard-earned dollars are being utilized in an ethical and prudent fashion. We need to be a resource driven organization, living within our means, just like every Oswego family.
Growing government beyond our ability to pay for it is never an acceptable answer.
I would like to present, in a little more detail, some of our city departments and their commitment to the people of Oswego.
We’ve been financially responsible, but good government is more than that. It’s about feeling safe and secure on a day-to-day basis. That is why public safety is another cornerstone of this administration.
The Oswego Police Department is focusing on preventative law enforcement with a strong commitment to community service. New surveillance equipment and new technologies will provide for more coverage without increasing the need for more overtime and more cost to the taxpayers. We look to establish a K-9 unit this year that will be a great asset to our community.
It is a strong benefit for our city that all the members of the Oswego Fire Department are trained EMTs as well as firefighters. We will continue to work hard with our dedicated firefighters to maintain the high caliber of lifesaving services tat they provide to our city.
I especially want to thank Chief DeCaire and Chief McCrobie and all the fine men and women that dedicate their lives to making our city residents safe. Every day we are making significant progress in making Oswego a safer place to live and work.
We’ve talked about fiscal responsibility and public safety – two cornerstones of this administration. But just as we want to invest in the safety of our community, and earn your trust as a financially responsible administration, we must continue to work to improve our unemployment rate and make our city appealing to outside businesses as well as our current businesses looking to expand locally.
Even as we work our way through this difficult economy, we have had some good news pertaining to economic development during the past few months.
Oswego was one of the largest recipients from the New York State Regional Economic Development Program. This will contribute to the development of the Port of Oswego with a $1.75 million East Terminal Connector Project; $716,000 to develop sustainable wind turbine technology and $300,000 to address improvements to the West Side Sewer Excess Flow Management Facility.
The completion of the newly constructed conference center on East First Street will provide our city with a much needed addition in attracting visitors and future business investors.
The addition of the International Marina to our city facilities will provide another source of revenue. This, in conjunction with Wright’s Landing; our ongoing renovation of the Oswego Lighthouse and the return of the tall ship Ontario will showcase our beautiful waterfront.
Construction of a new business class hotel will begin shortly on the Route 104 East corridor, as defined in our Vision 20/20 Plan. This will create jobs during construction and permanent position for the operations of the hotel facility upon completion.
The expansion of SUNY Oswego will continue to bring tremendous benefits to the city.
As an administration, we will continue to work with our partners and push for job growth in the city of Oswego.
But there is much more to do on the economic development front, and we need the help of our friends in the New York legislature to work with our governor to craft a more business friendly environment in New York State.
The city of Oswego faces increasing competition for job creation projects and associated economic prosperity. We need to study and understand what other cities are doing, relative to Oswego. We must increase opportunity for private sector investment, while maintaining essential and desired city services. An understanding of best practices can ensure we design a clear road map to prosperity for Oswego businesses.
Quality of Life Issues and the Vision 20/20 Plan
We have made strides in securing outside interest in our city, but a great city is also a great community – made up of great neighborhoods and great public spaces. We are committed to improving our neighborhoods so we can truly enjoy the quality of life that all of our residents deserve.
Culture, History and Education
We are continuing to promote the arts, culture and lifelong learning in significant ways. Oswego will be a destination city for visitors from near and far. A partnership between SUNY Oswego and our city’s arts, culture and history will have a strong economic impact on our community.
Even with these investments, one of the serious challenges that we face as a city is that there are not enough private sector investments being made to the built environment in our community. Critical infrastructure, economic development and quality of life projects have all suffered because of the downturn that occurred over the past few years.
My goal as your mayor is to create a more efficient city government. One that will allow us to shift part of our tax revenues back to our built environment and place a renewed emphasis on much needed infrastructure improvements and great public spaces.
So as you can see, we are busy putting in motion an engine that can drive us into the future.
However, we need each and every one of you here to truly help move our city forward. We must create opportunities and implement meaningful change now and at every opportunity.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a crossroads – and we cannot be complacent. We must take the needed steps to ensure our city is a place where we, and our children and grandchildren, will want to live 25 years from now.
Our Vision 20/20 roadmap for the future needs to be honestly addressed. Now is the time to drive our city forward and invest in our future.
So, as you hear about opportunities to improve Oswego, I implore you to consider – discuss – make suggestions – and take an active part in shaping our destiny.
Thank you for taking the time to be here tonight. I know that all of you have many demands on your time. A special thank you again to our invaluable community partners, our elected officials and the volunteer community, and so many others who make our city the special place that it is.
Remember – it is your commitment to the future of our city that will make us great.
And it is your energy that is the fuel that keeps me going as your mayor.
Thomas W. Gillen
Mayor of Oswego
March 26, 2012.