OSWEGO, NY – As of Jan. 1, 2013, the mayor’s proposed spending plan will become the official city budget for the new year.
Councilors voted 7-0 Monday night to approve Mayor Tom Gillen’s $38,425,109 budget.
Some amendments were passed that juggled some funds around, but it is still roughly the same dollar amount as the mayor originally proposed.
The fire department will possibly vacate the west side station and consolidate in the east side fire station. The number of firefighters per shift will also be decreased by two. The station could be saved if the department stays within the confines of its budget.
The mayor and all seven councilors said the budget plan is the best for the city in these harsh economic times, and, they added, it maintains safety for residents. It wasn’t personal they stressed to the more than four dozen firefighters and retires in the audience.
However, several residents and firefighters spoke at the public hearing and expressed concern over the closure of the west side fire station and staff reductions.
It can only make things much more difficult for the department to do its job – a job in which minutes, if not seconds, can mean the difference between life and death, the speakers said.
The loss of revenue from the Steam Station was “a big situation for us,” the mayor said.
“That’s over a half million dollars in tax revenue that we lost (in that settlement). Had we not done that, we wouldn’t have had to raise taxes at all. We could have come in without increasing our sewer and water (fees), no property tax increase.”
This budget was scripted by the entire Common Council, Gillen said, adding that’s why he wasn’t surprised that is was passed unanimously.
The final tax rate will be about $10.164 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, up from this year’s $8.98 per $1,000.
According to Council President Ron Kaplewicz, a person with a house assessed at $70,000 will pay $74 more in city taxes next year.
The reduction to the fire department didn’t sit well with the speakers at the public hearing.
Oswego resident Michael Johnson told the councilors he probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the efforts of the city fire department.
He went into cardiac arrest in 2007, he said.
“If it weren’t for the Oswego Fire Department, I probably would have died. They were quick and swift in getting me to the hospital,” he said.
Instead of decreasing their ranks, the city should augment the fire department, he added.
John Geraci, president of the firefighters’ association, reiterated the rank and file’s opposition to the cuts, noting it would possibly put the safety of the community at risk.
It seems the council doesn’t completely understand how the department operates and the resources that are required, he said.
He also restated his pledge to work with city to find ways to make the department run more efficiently.
“There will be an impact due to the cuts that force changes in operations,” he said. “There are no re-dos or try again in the business of providing emergency services.”
Mike Cook, a retired firefighter of Oswego, also opposed the cuts.
The west side fire station could remain operational at a very minimal cost, he pointed out.
Closing it makes response times longer and “an already dangerous profession more dangerous and less efficient,” he told the councilors.
Jeff Holbrook said he wasn’t a resident of Oswego, but owned property in the Port City.
Closing the west side station will make ambulance response times longer; and that could cost someone their life, he said.
Kathleen Harris of the First Ward didn’t approve of the cuts, either.
It will be difficult for emergency vehicles to get across “that traffic-filled bridge” to get to calls on the west side, she said.
“We have enough men … both sides of the river to take care of Oswego!” she said.
The mayor and councilors were elected to protect the city and its residents, their homes and their live, she said.
“If you cannot do that for us, I going ask the people to have a special emergency election and vote you all out of office if you’re not going to (serve us),” she said. “Because you don’t deserve to be in office.”
Her statement was greeted by a hearty round of applause from the standing-room-only crowd.