OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – The deadline to submit an intent to propose for the countywide grant opportunity under the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition has come and gone without a submission from Oswego County.
“We’ve had several meetings with all different levels of municipal leaders in the county. We’ve communicated this opportunity through multiple conference calls and emails, but an intent to propose was not submitted for Oswego County so we are ineligible to move forward to the next step,” said David Turner, Director of the Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism, and Planning.
The grant opportunity allowed for $20 million awarded to the application showing the best intended plan for governmental consolidation in effort to reduce property taxes.
Specifically, the grant called for a consolidation agreement between two municipalities or the dissolution of one municipality into another.
“We received several letters of support from various people indicating they would work with the county to provide local government services in a more cost efficient manner, but ultimately no two communities were willing to participate in the plan to study consolidation which is the commitment we needed to move forward,” Turner said.
County legislator, Frank Castiglia Jr. (D-Fulton) was one of those in support of the grant opportunity, approaching the city’s common council with the suggestion to consider dissolving the city of Fulton as the necessary criteria to move forward with the MCEC.
“I am very, very disappointed that the money train, meaning the possibility to gain $20 million, has left Oswego County and I’m very disheartened that some of the elected officials that were in the position to consider this money couldn’t see far enough ahead that a feasibility study wouldn’t determine anything other than whether the option to dissolve was feasible or it was not,” Castiglia said.
He initially suggested that the city of Fulton utilize the grant opportunity to conduct a feasibility study at no cost to the city to determine whether the idea to dissolve the city would be feasible and beneficial to the city’s taxpayers.
From there, the option would fall into the hands of city residents and residents of whichever municipality would absorb the city by being put to public vote, he said.
“The feasibility study would have been the first step, but the decision should have been for the people to make- not me, not six people on a panel, not the Mayor. We should have done it, gone through with the study and been in the ball game for $20 million. At the end of the day, I believe in the people making the decisions, not allowing elected officials to make decisions that would take their jobs because they don’t want to give up their seat at the table, much like the Governor himself said,” Castiglia explained.
Ultimately, he said the goal was to seriously consider a way to lower property taxes and allow for more affordable living for residents of the city.
“Everything else happening in this city is great, there are many hard working volunteer groups that are great, but we’ve got to look at how to lower the cost to live here,” he said.
Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. said when the opportunity was presented that he would leave the decision to participate up to the six councilors that represent the city on the Common Council.
Ultimately, the council unanimously agreed not to participate after hearing concern from residents in the city as well as surrounding towns.
Council president and second ward councilor David Ritchie explained the council’s decision.
“We just don’t think its feasible. Hearing from people in Granby and Volney, they don’t want it either. From my understanding, really no one in the state wants to do it. Why doesn’t anyone else in the county do it? It’s not going to do us any good, we would actually lose a lot of state aid. We are making progress and I look forward to continuing that,” he said.
Woodward agreed, sharing his belief that dissolution would not be beneficial for the city.
“I know better than the Governor knows and Frank Castiglia knows, that this is not going to work and I’m not sure why they can’t see that. City residents pay taxes to the school, the city, and the county. If you did consolidate, it’s not going to take away school or county taxes so why are we targeting just one taxing district? It’s not going to change the assessed value of property. We are still going to need to light and plow the city, have a police and fire presence, provide services to the people here. We have labor contracts where retirees get health insurance, will that go away? No. So, possibly we save five or ten dollars but what does it change, really?” he questioned.
With a 40% tax exemption in the city, he said hypothetically, “having all pay by tomorrow would cut the tax rate in half but these real issues are on state level and can’t be altered by local government.”
“These are state laws, we can’t change them. Cities are struggling because of state mandates and the Governor won’t even address them. He’s not trying to be Governor, he’s trying to be King,” Woodward continued.
Instead, he suggested, “the easy solution if they really want it, have lawmakers pass a law and make everyone do it.”
Ultimately, county representatives did not receive a commitment from any two municipalities in the county to move forward by the deadline (Jan 27) to submit the intent to propose.
“We missed it, so the opporunity to dissolve is dead,” Castiglia said.