Oswego Budget Plan Raises Taxes, Slices 27% of Fire Department

OFD patch

OSWEGO, NY – “For our department, it’s devastating,” Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie told Oswego County Today Monday night after the mayor unveiled his tentative 2017 city budget.

OFD patchMayor William Barlow’s proposed spending plan not only includes a tax hike, it also slices more than a quarter of the fire department in order to make ends meet for the city next year. There is no water or sewer fee increase, the mayor pointed out.

According to the mayor, emergency services won’t suffer from the proposed reductions.

“We’ve developed a plan that keeps the same amount of services – ambulance service, water rescues and fire protection,” he said.

“Mayor Barlow and I have been discussing this, at length, for probably 10 or 12 days now,” the chief said. “We’ll have to try to provide the services we’re currently providing with 27 percent less personnel. It’s a service we’re proud of and will continue to do even though we’ve faced cutbacks from other administrations.”

It will be difficult to do, he admits.

“My command staff and I have already begun trying to figure out how to go about doing this for the safety of the residents and safety of the firefighters. It’s going to be hard. We’re going to try our best,” McCrobie said.

He and the mayor have worked on this for quite some time.

The department had one retirement recently. That leaves 15 families that right now are his major concern, the chief said.

“We want to help them through this most difficult time for them. They are young people, young families, obviously we know them. A 58 or 59 person department … we called them and talked about this. We’re not just talking to a number, it’s a person, a neighbor,” McCrobie said.

The chief and the mayor are trying to work through part-time opportunities for the firefighters impacted.

“It’s a terrible situation. (The mayor and I) are doing everything we can to make it good,” the chief said.

Rank and file firefighters we made aware of the situation earlier on Monday in a discussion with the chief and mayor. They informed those who are affected.

“I wanted to be the one who told them; they’re my people. It’s been very respectful. The union’s done everything it can. The mayor, myself, some of our senior leadership has met. We all understand the plight the city is in,” McCrobie said.

The decision was made strictly on seniority, the chief said, adding that any retirements that happen mean the more off the top that leaves means the less off the bottom have to go.

The staffing would be from 59, take away the 16, that leaves 43 with a “float position” and two administrators (the chief and assistant chief), McCrobie said.

“So that leaves 10 per shift,” he added. “We’ll have to do with what we have. There are a lot of factors involved. We’ve discussed it. Nothing is set in stone yet.”

People aren’t going to vote for an increase in their taxes, probably no matter whose job is on the line, unless it’s their own, he said.

“It’s been honest, truthful talks among adults. And none of us like it. None of us like it at all,” the chief said. “But we’re going to progress as a group here, the department, the mayor and now the council’s involved. We’re going to make the best of this. We don’t want to be here, but this is what we’re facing. I’m sure that we’re in for more discussion in the coming weeks.”

“What scares me is there hasn’t been any discussions, that I’m aware of, as to how do you make it work,” John Geraci, union president, said. “The biggest thing that hits me is last weekend we had two working house fires in the same weekend. Those guys pulled up on Sunday morning of Harborfest with 10 guys working and they managed to rescue a guy and two kids hanging out of a second story window and two dogs as well. They were short-handed doing it. How are we going to provide that same level of service when you cut more than a quarter of the department?”

As firefighters, “we’re going to rise to the occasion and do our jobs no matter what,” he added.

The emotional side of the matter is suddenly now you have 16 guys that have been told they don’t have a job Jan. 1, he said.

There is nothing he’s not willing to talk about in order to save the jobs, Geraci told Oswego County Today.

“Let’s arrive at a point where we don’t have to send people home. The city has a lot invested in these guys. They sent them all to the fire academy, they’re all trained. Let’s find a way to solve this; I am 100 percent committed to working with the mayor, the council,” he said.

The firefighters are coming to the end of a five-year contract.

They took zero, zero, zero, two and two – “a four percent raise over five years,” Geraci pointed out. “There is nothing that’s off the table when it comes to finding a way to save these jobs. I understand the spot (the city’s) in. I think they’ve been doing a great job, this council and administration with what the city needs. So let’s show that when it comes to a hard budget we can work together. This city has some positive momentum, let’s use that to show that the city and the union can sit down and find a way that keeps guys from cleaning out their lockers and putting their houses on the market.”

Check back later for more details regarding the mayor’s budget proposal.


  1. Goes to show the state we’re really in when we have more taxes & job cuts to go along with them. But hey:

    [There is no water or sewer fee increase, the mayor pointed out.]

    Let me tell ya Mr. Mayor, you’d better find a way to never increase that thing again & get the DEC on the horn & tell them to “pound salt” because those fees need to be dropped…DRASTICALLY! They’re going to be the death of your taxpayer-base even now so you might be cutting a lot more than just firemen, you’ll be cutting the DPW, cops, city hall, your own pay, & a host of whatever else once everyone runs out of here one way or another! I know I’m going real soon & when I do I will be lighting my celebratory bonfire with all of the ridiculous water/sewer receipts…how I long for the day!!

  2. My problem is he wants to spend how much on free WiFi downtown an to maintain it an he’s cutting jobs. Good job billy. Just more b.s. in oswego

  3. I think the Mayor,council president,Vice President, full council needs and department heads to take a pay cut to make up the difference in the tax raise. You lead by example not by hiding on the fringes……

  4. More taxes, less services. This is sacrificing our safety! Find other ways to save money! Cut the mayor’s salary, the councilmen, and other salaries for part-time jobs.

  5. Finally, a mayor with the guts to put taxpayers first.
    Now union head Geraci will tell residents they are all going to die with less fully paid staff on duty while Geraci heads back home to Oswego town where there is only a volunteer fire department to protect his home and family.

    Mr Geraci, if a volunteer fire department is good enough for your home, how is slightly smaller fully paid department dangerous for Oswego city residents?

  6. Even when this budget gets to the council we all know nothing will be done on it. There will be no layoff of OFD or anyone else. First they should leave the Traffic Department right where it is at OPD. The DPW has more than enough to keep them busy with out adding the Traffic Dept. Lower the Water/Sewer rates to a livable rate. It would be better for most of the rate payers to have water meters in their homes. At least that way if you have a one or two person home you pay for what you really use and not the over priced water that the city thinks you used. But then again that would be the right thing to do.

  7. DPW is where jobs can be cut as well as the FD. I have complained before about the DPW workers (?) driving by my house 3 in a truck, up and down Albany st.and cross streets with there coffee never stopping to pick up anything. I have also asked a fireman one day as the hydrant in front of my home was being flushed why that was being done or what does that do and he replied “nothing, a big waist of time”. It does still need to be painted and that was about 6 years ago. You can always tell when DPW is on the clock, ever notice how slow they drive around town as all hourly city workers do. I had to go to the police station this winter to report a crime and the only thing around that was plowed was city official parking and apparently no one was working that day, and the movie theater. I needed the only Handicap parking space in the area but they had plowed snow into the entire spot. I had to park illegally and go into the police station trying to shove my walker through the snow to ask where I could park. They were as upset about the poor snow job as I and asked if I would send a concern to the Mayor. I did so and of course never received a response. Make cuts in several places not just the FD. Oh yes, that makes sense, won’t happen.

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