OSWEGO – Mayor Billy Barlow painted a bright vision of the Port City’s future. The mayor delivered his third State of the City address Tuesday night, outlining recent accomplishments made by the city and announced several upcoming projects, initiatives and goals for 2018.
The mayor presented his remarks in the large meeting room at GS Steamer’s on East First Street instead of the Council Chambers at City Hall.
So what is the State of the City?
“We are in a state of progress, resurgence and revival,” the mayor told the standing-room-only crowd. “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.”
Before he took office in 2016, the city was “plagued with years of indecision and inaction,” Barlow said.
“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,” he said. “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.”
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, he added.
Things have begun to turn around, he pointed out.
He highlighted several things the city has done to improve over the past couple of years.
He noted things such as:
- Revamping the city website
- Privatizing the management of city wastewater facilities
- Completing more than $1.5 million in city road paving projects including the “forks in the road” on State Route 104
- Creating and executing a five-year capital investment plan and
- Allocating more DPW resources to downtown.
They have also expanded the summer concert series at Veterans’ Park and allocated funding to improve the 4th of July Celebration and the Christmas Tree lighting event, he added.
“We’ve made city government much more efficient and I would argue we have improved city services while doing so,” the mayor said. “City government today operates on $2 million less than it did the day I took office and with fewer employees.”
The mayor wants to improve the city’s waterfront, river walk area 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,” he explained. “This proposal will enhance a very unique area of our community and allow us to take better advantage of our riverfront.”
The mayor announced 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,” he said. “This mural, along with the city investment, will drastically improve this entryway and no longer be an eyesore to the neighborhood.”
The mayor announced the Oswego Lighthouse will receive a $100,000 exterior paint job this summer thanks to the help of Assemblyman Will Barclay. And, in the Spring of 2018, the city will open a Dog Park.
For decades, going toe-to-toe with city landlords was viewed as a political battle the city wasn’t willing to fight and could not win, the mayor pointed out.
“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,” he said.
The city has even taken on the most infamous city landlords and shut their properties down, the mayor said.
“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,” he said. “It is proven to work, so let’s continue building our code enforcement program and keep improving our neighborhoods and quality of life.”
“When we evict tenants, it’s quite a rare occasion. It’s literally the last resort,” he said after his presentation. “When the structure is an imminent threat to the health or well-being of the tenants is when we take that action. We try to make every effort to find another landlord to house those folks immediately. And if we can’t we work with the Red Cross in the short-term.”
That’s just one strategy the city has used against the worst of the worst landlords, the mayor explained.
These recent accomplishments are things this community can be proud of, he said.
“Local government can really do only so much so fast. We’re trying to do as much as we can with the resources that we have,” Barlow said.
He looks forward to working with the new council and backing up the good work done by the previous council.
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,” the mayor said.
“A lot of the announcements that I made tonight are announcements that we already have in progress that I know that we can complete. Some of the beautification projects, one or two of them, I would say the council would have to allocate funding for,” he said. “But I’m sure they have the appetite to do so. They’re all excited to have beautification projects in their wards that they want to get done, because our community needs it. That’s why we’ve made cuts to city government and we’ve tried to rein in spending so we can have money to do projects like this. So, I think they’ll be onboard. A lot of projects are already funded. All of the announcements I made are in different areas. So I think we can really keep moving it along and attack each area and be successful getting this all done this year.”
Council President Robert Corradino said he’s onboard with the mayor’s vision and is excited about the projects the city has in the works.
“s a member of the Promotion and Tourism Advisory Board I was very, very pleased to hear that the mayor has put out a request to get a bigger share of the bed tax,” he said. “That would be huge because right now, the Promotion and Tourism Advisory Board has no budget. I’d like to see those talks proceed further with the county and see if we can get a bigger share.”