OSWEGO, NY – At Monday night’s Administrative Services Committee meeting, Councilor John Pat McLaughlin requested discussion regarding the water rates for the city of Oswego. The floodgates were open for more than an hour as dozens of residents berated the councilors.
Last month, the out-going council voted 3-3 (with former mayor Tom Gillen’s yes vote breaking the deadlock) to raise the water and sewer rates. Councilor Eric VanBuren was excused.
Monday night, McLaughlin said he wanted to give the public a chance to voice their opinion on the matter.
“Then, as a council, maybe we can decide what we want to do from there,” he said.
The resolution was an add-on at the end of the final council meeting of 2015. One speaker claimed the matter was rushed through and the councilors didn’t fully understand the ramifications of what they were voting on.
“You don’t vote on something until you look into it and know what all the facts are,” he said. “This is ridiculous. If this is the way we’re going to operate, we’re in big trouble.”
“The city is fast becoming a city where taxpayers, especially retired taxpayers, can’t live,” another speaker added. “Some of us are paying an arm and a leg now,” he told the councilors.
Several of the speakers urged the committee to rescind the increase.
That would have to be done at a full council meeting, not at the committee level, Councilor Eric VanBuren explained.
“I think it’s important that we work together going forward,” Mayor William Barlow said.
He said he’s been in contact with Congressman John Katko on the matter to arrange a meeting. He has also talked with the regional representative for Gov. Cuomo and has a meeting scheduled; he also talked with Sen. Charles Schumer’s representative for the area and he will come to Oswego for a meeting.
“I also had my city attorney reach out to the DEC to schedule a meeting to talk about the underlying problem, which is the Consent Decree,” he said. “They need to better understand the problems were faced with. They need to realize what (the Consent Decree) is doing to the taxpayers.”
People, including the new councilors, need to have more information, new councilor Nathan Emmons said. It is posted on the website, he added.
It would be helpful, too, he said, if the DEC would come to a committee meeting and explain things in more detail.
Robert Corradino, committee chair, said the Consent Decree is long and filled with a lot of legalize. But, if you read it, it will start making sense.
“To a certain degree, we have no choice in a lot of this,” he said. “The can was kicked down the road years ago when we were supposed to do this work. We didn’t, and the bill’s come due now.”
The city of Oswego “has an awful reputation with the DEC because of past mistakes over decades,” the mayor pointed out. “That is something this new administration needs to tackle right away.”
There isn’t enough money in the Enterprise Fund currently to pay for the next phase of work that is mandated by the Consent Decree, one speaker pointed out. “We have to have the money. Where are we going to get it? You’re not going to get it all off the backs of the citizens, because it’s a lot more that you’re going to get out of raising rates.”
No one wants to raise rates, Corradino said. “But, when your hands are tied it is very difficult. I know everybody’s frustrated about this. This is a big issue.”
Why can’t we get state or federal money?” one man asked. “Every time you turn around Watertown, Syracuse all these other places are getting it. Where are our representatives? They have to do more to help these people.”
At the beginning of the Consent Decree, 2010, the cost at that time was $87 million, according to Deb Coad, city chamberlain.
“We’ve currently bonded for over $36 million and we’re now halfway through,” she said.
One woman said she brought her concerns to the attention of her then-councilor, who told her to “move out of Oswego, just as I’m going to do.”
“That was my councilor’s answer. And, a lot of people are going to be moving,” she added.
“This whole place is going to go right into the lake. And when it does I hope you all run fast because you got to beat the people that are here paying your salaries,” one woman chastised the councilors. “Try to do something for all of us, not just a select few. And if you’re going to vote on something, make sure you know what you’re voting for.”
Even though the Council Chamber was quite full Monday night, she pointed out, “This is a very poor turnout; I’m very ashamed of Oswego.”
After more than an hour, the discussion ended. However, it will continue at future committee meetings, councilors said.
According to the December 2015 resolution: “The current water and sewer rate schedule shall be abandoned and be replaced with the following rate schedule: flat rate water shall be $75/quarter and flat rate sewer shall be $200/quarter. Metered water base rate shall be $55/quarter for the first 10,000 gallons or 1,337 cubic feet and usage over the base rate shall be billed at $1.50 per 1,000 gallons or $1.50 per 134 cubic feet. Metered sewer base rate shall be $150/quarter for the first 10,000 gallons or 1,337 cubic feet and usage over the base shall be billed at $5 per 1,000 gallons or 134 cubic feet. The new water and sewer rates shall be applied to all accounts on the current schedule.”