Oswego Councilors Narrowly Pass Budget With 3% Tax Rate Hike

OSWEGO, NY – The Common Council narrowly approved the Port City’s 2009 operating budget. The vote was 4-3 Monday night.

Earlier this month, Mayor Randy Bateman proposed a spending plan that includes a 3 percent tax rate increase.

Councilors Monday night agreed on several amendments to the budget including: increasing the fire department budget by $22,242, snipping $4,600 from Animal Control’s budget, draining $12,500 from Wastewater (West).

However, when the vote was called on the amended budget, Shawn Walker, Bill Sharkey and Mike Joyce voted no.

Dan Donovan, Connie Cosemento, Sue Sweet and Mike Myers voted yes.

“We could have done a lot better,” Sharkey said following the meeting. “If we were still in high school and this was basic economics, that’s a failure – the teacher would have failed us for a budget like that.”

The city has “spent a bunch of money” that it didn’t have to, the Sixth Ward councilor said.

“We’re spending too much,” Sharkey said.

The councilor pointed out he isn’t against any one department in particular, adding he has voted positively as far as training for city employees.

“I want us to have the best trained employees that we can possibly have. All the equipment that we can afford to get, I have voted for it. But, some of this stuff is just out of control; we didn’t have the money to start with and now we’re just further in the hole,” he said.

Bateman charged department heads with cutting 10 percent of their budgets without touching personnel.

“Because I firmly believe that city employees should not have to worry about their livelihood to support their families during every budget process, I directed the department heads first to compile their proposed budgets with the current staffing levels intact and then to tally their requests for supplies, equipment, materials and vehicles. I am very pleased to announce that this balanced budget contains no layoffs and alleviates the concerns of our employees,” the mayor said in his budget message.

Cutting personnel to balance the budget is something the city doesn’t want to do, Bateman said, adding it would be the last resort.

“We could cut some projects, we could stop some of the services, save money that way, but what do you want to give up?” he continued. “It’s easy to say, ‘I am not going to support a 3 percent increase,’ but give me some options.”

The budget this year is $180,853 lower than last year’s budget, the mayor noted.

The tax rate is $8.98 per $1,000 assessed. It will mean an $18 per year increase to the average homes assessed at $70,000, the mayor said.

“Our goal is always to attempt a zero percent increase. However, with the rising costs of fuel and utilities, that goal simply was not achievable for 2009,” Bateman said. “The good thing is nobody lost their job.”