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Oswego Mayor’s 2010 State Of The City Address

OSWEGO, NY – Our city of Oswego, NY, faced a challenging year in 2009.

Even though the economy did improve somewhat last year, it has not yet fully recovered.

Despite these economic conditions, many accomplishments were achieved and more will follow this year in 2010.

Make no mistake though, the coming year will present many unique challenges to our city.

My administration and the Common Council will face these challenges together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as public officials who were elected to do what is best for this city.

The 2010 Common Council has been chosen and entrusted to work together with this administration to meet the challenges of the coming year.

It takes teamwork and collaboration to overcome these challenges.

A major challenge facing our city this year and future years will be the Consent Decree and the generation of a Long Term Control Plan.

This plan will outline the necessary repairs that need to be made to our Westside Sewer System.

This has been a long process of negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to determine what the Consent Decree will involve.

When the city was notified of the inquiry into our discharges to the Oswego River, we basically had two options concerning the Consent Decree. We could deny the allegations and be sued in Federal Court or we could negotiate a settlement with U.S. and NYS agencies.

We chose to negotiate in order to achieve the most favorable arrangement for the city.

If we chose to go to court, we would have lost, incurred large legal bills and fines, then still be made to complete the needed work to remedy the problems.

While nobody likes being forced to spend large amounts of money, I believe that we made the correct decision in negotiating the best deal for our taxpayers.

The details of the Consent Decree will be made public as soon as the state and federal agencies sign the document.

During 2010, we will face other obstacles. One major obstacle will be the New York State Department of Transportation’s rehabilitation of the Utica Street Bridge over the Oswego River.

We coped with the demolition and reconstruction of the Route 104 Bridge in 2008 and we survived.

This project will not be nearly as challenging, as two lanes of traffic, one in each direction, will be kept open during the work.

Similar to the Route 104 Bridge, this new bridge will allow for the viewing of our waterscape.

The ugly, rusty steel sidewalls will be replaced by a see-through system using four horizontal rails with one-inch vertical spindles.

This project is scheduled to begin in April of this year, shutdown for the winter in November, and then start again in April of 2011.

The project will be substantially complete by the end of July and fully completed by August of next year.

As was the case with the Route 104 Bridge project, we ask for your patience and tolerance as another improvement is made to our city infrastructure.

Last year, the city became the proud owner of one of Oswego’s unique landmarks, the West Pierhead Lighthouse, which serves as a welcoming beacon to our visitors from the water.

We will send requests for proposals for an analysis of the lighthouse to determine what work needs to be done.

We have received a grant and will seek further grant funding to renovate this historic landmark.

The Recreation Commission that I appointed continues to explore ways to take full advantage of our recreational resources and maximize their use.

Their most recent effort is to coordinate the construction and operation of a skateboard area near the Crisafulli Ice Rink.

The revitalized Campus City Relations Committee continues to seek ways to strengthen our relationship with our campus neighbors.

It is important for us to work with our campus population on areas of mutual concern.

Finances

As I already mentioned, last year did not present the best of economic conditions, even though the economy recovered somewhat by year’s end.

My proposed city budget has to be presented to the Common Council by the end of July every year.

The Common Council must pass a budget by the end of August, unless there is more than a 5% proposed property tax increase.

In that case, the budget must go to a public referendum in November.

Since our 2010 budget was passed in August of 2009, we had to hope that another financial crisis did not arise at the end of 2009 as it did at the end of 2008.

The major portion of our revenue is derived from our sales and use tax, even surpassing property tax revenues.

The projected sales and use tax revenue for 2009 was set at $13,486,523, which was lowered from the projected $14,350,659 for 2008.

When the sales and use tax projection was set in August of 2009 for the 2010 budget year, we were in an improving, but not yet fully recovered economy.

Due to the unknown recovery schedule of the economy, we further lowered the projected sales and use tax in the 2010 budget to $11,495,271.

A decrease of $1,991,252 from the 2009 budgeted amount.

The city collects 4 cents on every dollar spent on taxable items within the city limits and people are spending less.

We encourage everyone to “Shop Oswego First” to try and find your item from a local merchant.

Even purchasing your gasoline from a gas station within the city can make a difference.

I instituted a discretionary spending freeze in all city departments in 2009.

That freeze continues into this year.

The discretionary spending freeze allows department heads to spend funds on only those items necessary to keep their departments functioning.

This spending freeze will continue through the year as we monitor our expenses and revenues.

We are also waiting for the New York State budget to be passed, as we depend on that for our Aid and Incentive to Municipalities (AIM) funding.

AIM funding for Oswego increased by 7% for 2008 to $2,662,694, which accounted for approximately 8.3% of our revenues.

For 2009, the AIM funding stayed the same. For 2010, the AIM funding is scheduled to be cut to $2,426,284, causing an instant decrease of $236,410 in our revenues.

Again, since we must have our city budget passed by August, we are not aware of most of these unknowns as they are not announced until late in the year.

At the beginning of 2001, the city had an Unappropriated Fund Balance of $12.3 million.

At the beginning of 2006 when I took office as Acting Mayor, it was only $1.7 million.

I am pleased to report that even though the economy was dismal throughout the previous year, we still managed to maintain an Unappropriated Fund Balance of $2,007,950 at the end of 2009.

Make no mistake, while this could have been much worse, it is still less than the Unappropriated Fund Balance of $2.5 million at the end of 2008.

During the 2009 fiscal year we achieved 91% of our estimated General Budget Revenues.

We were able to achieve this even with shortfalls of over $2.8 million from our sales tax revenue and $73,200 from our High Dam revenue.

Also causing a shortfall in the 2009 budgeted revenues were $328,026 in unpaid city property taxes and $123,792 in unpaid water bills.

To compound matters, the city had to pay $498,763 in unpaid school taxes. By law, the city has to make the school district whole for any unpaid school taxes.

We took a more aggressive approach to the collection of water bills in 2009 by turning off the service to the users who did not pay.

Several warnings were given before this occurred.

By taking this more aggressive stance, we were able to collect over $250,000 in owed water bills.

I have also asked the Common Council to change the way the city typically disposes of property collected for unpaid taxes.

The previous method was to have the alderman of the ward where the property was located take offers and present them to the full council.

Properties were typically sold for much less than their true value.

I have encouraged the council to use the services of a real estate agency in order to get a better return for the taxpayer.

The real estate agency would be chosen by submitting their commission price to the council.

The council would choose the real estate agency based upon their commission price and their qualifications.

On a more positive note, by carefully and prudently controlling our expenditures, we only spent 84.82 % of our estimated General Budget Expenses during 2009.

Last year, we also retired $2.2 million in long term debt principal.

Overall, our unaudited budget deficit for 2009 was $1.2 million.

While this is a large sum of money, considering the economic conditions that we endured in 2009, it could have been much worse.

“Green” Savings

We recently completed installation of more energy efficient lighting in the Conway Building, the East Side Fire Station, and the DPW Garage under the Small Business Services Program sponsored by National Grid.

The city’s share in the cost for the lighting conversion was approximately 40 percent of the total project cost and we will save approximately $25,000 annually.

We also received a proposal from National Grid to install more energy efficient lighting at the Animal Control Shelter under the same program, and we will look into installing energy efficient lighting at the Cullinan Rink.

Additional facilities currently qualify under the National Grid program and will be analyzed later this year.

The Common Council recently authorized me to sign an asset transfer agreement with National Grid for the lighting assets located at the Midtown Parking Garage.

Upon receipt of National Grid’s countersignature, we will have new energy efficient lighting installed at the facility which will result in annual savings of approximately $30,000.

We also managed to keep the electric load at City Hall under 100kw for twelve consecutive months by eliminating some outdoor and indoor lighting.

In reaching this milestone, a change will occur in the tariff rate on the utility bills, and we will save approximately $6,000 per year.

We also installed Energy Profiler On-line software at the Crisafulli Rink to track load usage at the facility.

We realized a reduction in load of approximately 80kw which lowered the electric bill for the facility an estimated $1,300.

We will continue to seek ways to maximize the energy efficiency of our city buildings and thereby control and reduce our utility expenses.

New Construction

We will benefit from many new construction projects this year.

Several developers have had plans approved for new construction.

These include:

RESTORE NY GRANT – The Captains Quarters Conference Center will break ground on a $6 million expansion.

The Flexo-Wire site is cleaned up and ready for the Waterfront Square development to break ground this year with 24 residential units and 12 new retail spaces.

RESTORE NY 2 – The City received a $1.6 million grant for the Stevedore Development with 36 residential and 5 commercial units.

Our 2020 Façade Program has transformed East First and West First streets.

Seaway Lofts will create 20 1BR and 6 2BR apartments at the former Seaway Supply.

The Knights of Columbus building will be developed into 10 condos called City Lofts with indoor parking.

The City Work Force

During 2009, I had the opportunity to hire 26 city employees.

This includes part-time, seasonal, and permanent employees.

The full-time positions were all replacements and not new positions.

As of Jan. 1, 2010 the city had 309 people on payroll including seasonal and part-time positions.

This number is down from last year when there were 321 city employees.

During the course of our bi-monthly meetings, I have directed our department heads to work on an employee succession plan and an equipment replacement plan.

This will allow us to develop a comprehensive plan to determine the future needs of our various departments.

The Coming Year

Looking ahead in 2010, the Common Council and this administration will be working on several plans.

We will work with the NYS DOT on the Route 104 East reconstruction from George Street to City Line Road.

The NYS DOT will begin this fall with some utility work, and then proceed in earnest in the spring of 2011.

We want to thank the Oswego County Legislature for transferring a strip of property along Route 104 East next to the Staples store.

This property will be used to construct a new city street to allow a signalized intersection for the safe ingress and egress of customers visiting the retail stores in that area.

We will coordinate our efforts with the NYS DOT road work to minimize any traffic problems.

The Code Review Committee continues to review and propose needed amendments to our city codes.

I will appoint another committee later this fall to deal with the renewal of our cable franchise with Time Warner which expires in March of 2011.

Their recommendations will be reviewed by the Common Council for action.

I will also appoint a committee to review the Downtown Parking Policy to see where any changes are needed to better serve the downtown residents and businesses.

This has been a brief summary of our past and present state of affairs.

Oswego has benefited from its 161 years of experience.

We are ready to face the challenging year ahead.

Just as our community has united to rally against the closure of Fort Ontario, we will unite once again to face the challenges of 2010 together.

Thank you.

Randolph F. Bateman
Mayor, City of Oswego, NY
Dated:  March 22, 2010