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Residents Speak Out Against Proposed Oswego Tax Hike

OSWEGO, NY – At its meeting Monday night, the Common Council got a small sample of what’s likely in store for them next week.

Four city residents voiced their opposition to the mayor’s proposed 2014 city budget.

The councilors held a series of workshops last week trying to reduce a nearly 82 percent property tax rate increase proposed by the mayor. If the tentative budget is adopted it would mean a family with the average $70 thousand home would pay an extra $575 a year.

Tony Pauldine, a local businessman said “it kills me that our school taxes are as high as they are. They’re crushing us, they’re enormous.”

Now, the city is looking to raise taxes to nearly the same tier, he added.

The city administration should do something about Oswego Health who, according to Pauldine, wants to wipe out entire blocks of housing for parking space.

“As a contractor and an Oswegonian, I look at (the houses) and I say hundred thousand dollar house, 50 thousand dollar house, 60 thousand dollar, hundred and twenty thousand dollar house – assessment gone! Why do you allow it?” he said.

He took umbrage to remarks the mayor made in the media that he is “happy with the budget.”

“Small businesses are who you’re going to crush,” he told the council. “I personally believe 10 percent; take a 10 percent increase and guess what? Do the best you can with it. Is this (proposed budget) a scare tactic?”

“It’s time for draconian cuts. Now, draconian, the root of it is Dracula. I’ll tell you what – if we have a vampire in our midst, I think you’re going to find that the average person in the city of Oswego surrounding City Hall with pitch forks and wooden stakes and they’re going to go for you hearts!” Pauldine continued. “Things are tough. You’ve got to figure something out.”

If the city is heading for bankruptcy, “let’s do it now and get it over with,” he added.

Nathan Emmons echoed Pauldine’s sentiments.

“I hope and pray that the mayor and this council have looked at every single alternative, looked at every department, every scrap of paper they can and have found an alternative,” he said. “What you’re asking us to do as taxpayers is a very tough pill to swallow.”

He urged them to find ways to increase revenues and cut costs.

“An 82 percent tax increase is going to hurt us, it’s going to hurt a lot of folks,” he said. “Please don’t consider an 82 percent increase as the only measure.”

“I feel very sorry for (Mayor) Mr. (Tom) Gillen. He must be so embarrassed to have brought such an outrageous budget to this floor. If he doesn’t feel embarrassed, he should. Hard decisions should have been made by this mayor a long time ago,” said Christine Chamberlain. “An 82 percent increase – everyone knows this cannot pass.”

Even if this budget passed, services and personal will have to be cut “so a mess like this doesn’t happen again,” she added. “Everyone will have to give up something, the mayor and councilors should, too. Every little bit will help.”

In a few years, Oswego will be lucky to have a fire or police department, Chamberlains said.

She and her husband have talked about selling their house. But who would be crazy enough to buy a house in the city of Oswego? She asked rhetorically.

She is extremely concerned about what a large tax increase would do to the retired and elderly in the Port City.

“What will they do, stop taking the medications they can’t afford? Keep the thermostat at 55 (degrees)? Eat one meal a day?” she said.

Ann Backer, owner of Taste the World in Canal Commons, said she was speaking on behalf of all the small businesses there.

Oswego was booming when she was a child, she noted. “It became almost like a ghost town. Over the last five years, the downtown area has really filled up with local businesses,” she said. “Most of them are family owned.”

The proposed tax hike will be very detrimental to the business community, she said.

They will have to increase prices as a result, she added.

“People struggling to make ends meet; businesses struggling to keep their doors open may have to close,” she said. “I encourage you to find other ways to generate revenue and keep the local businesses here.”

There will be a public meeting on Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Oswego Middle School (in the gym) to discuss the proposed budget, Mayor Gillen said.

Councilors will present information regarding the proposed 2014 city budget. And, there will be a question and answer period at the end of the meeting, he said.

“It will be inter-active. The public hearing on the budget will be at 7:10 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 23, prior to the regularly scheduled council meeting,” he said.

Council President Ron Kaplewicz said he appreciated that people came to speak at the meeting.

The mayor, councilors and department heads have stepped up their game trying to come up with the best possible budget, considering the situation, he said.

“It’s a matter of reality. If it takes an 81 percent tax increase to get the community engaged … For years we have had a number of factors that have gone into the budget that was presented by the mayor and council. We are literally looking at every dollar that we can spend,” he said.

Other factors impacting the budget process include past spending habits, PILOT agreements, tax exempt properties, consent decrees and property devaluation among others, he noted.

“There will have to be some very tough decisions made. And in the end, there will be consequences for all those decisions,” he said. “You can cut the mayor’s salary, the council’s salaries, you can cut (the department heads’) salaries and we’d still have a 71 percent tax increase. We need to look at how we’re going to manage this city and grow this city.”

Each and every councilor is looking for ways to increase revenue and cut costs, he added.

“Everyone needs to get involved in the community,” he said. “We’re trying to do the right thing for the right reason.”

The budget plan “isn’t some political stunt,” Mayor Gillen said. “We’re not trying to go high, sell low. That’s insulting to us. That’s insulting to the city. You have to know what’s going on; you have to come to the meetings. Once you know the situation, then you can help us make those decisions. That’s all we’re asking.”

“We all live here,” First Ward Councilor Fran Enwright pointed out. “I grew up in this city. I’m getting ready to retire. And the last thing I want to do is raise taxes when I’m going to be going on a fixed income. We feel the pain here. We don’t want to do this any more than you want to see it happen. So, bear with us and I hope that you’ll be happy with the results.”

9 Comments

  1. Just a side note. It is not just the old and retired that are on “fixed incomes”, people who work for a living are also on ‘fixed incomes’. Working peoples incomes are fixed by thier employer. Then again, many of those retired are in their 40’s and are former fire and police. I wonder if THAT could be part of the problem?

  2. Love how someone about to retire talks of having to pay the tax too….yeah…after she gets her senior discount…hypocrite!!!

  3. Take a lesson from Fulton. Woodard has been trying to tax his way out of his financial problems for years and it hasn’t worked. You’re complaining about having to go to 18 dollars per thousand of assessed valued and Fulton is at 57 dollars per thousand. Woodard will have to consider declaring bankruptcy after the first of the year if he wants a 5 mil grant from the state. It probably doesn’t help that both cities have some firemen making between 160,000 and 200,00 dollars a year.

  4. Fulton is NOT $57.00 for JUST the CITY tax, that is total tax including school and county. Oswego will be close to or even over $50.00 if this passes.

  5. We are in quite a jam. The US as a whole, the northeast in PARTICULAR. But, there seems to be an issue that continues with the rich and the poor. So far, it seems the middle-class is funding BOTH.

    First of all, we have an ever growing influx of low-income families moving to Oswego County. We no longer have any financial penalties in allowing the transfer from one county DSS to another. And for whatever reason(!), Oswego has gotten a reputation for easy assistance. I am not begrudging those that have always lived here, are part of our community, and need assistance. Many of us have need at one time or another. I DO (God forgive me) feel the weight of the ever increasing burden of those who are not ‘of us,’ moving here.

    There is more crime (because television/films make us want what we cannot have…so there are those that try to find a way to get it…(drugs, theft, trafficking). But it’s harder to steal from your own, so much of the crime is frequently generated by the newbies who don’t know us or our families.

    Other counties ‘dropping their burden’ on us MUST STOP!!! LEGISLATION must stop this. We are an already over-burdened community, and we just can’t keep shoring up the problems of other counties in other states even!

    Then, we have unions that negotiated salaries and benefits based on the industrial base that no longer is here. We need a new tier without these benefits. New employees, not those already in the system, need to start with salaries more commiserate with the income base here currently.

    I spoke with my alderman, and he seemed to feel that salaries for the government base must be competitive with the industrial base. The problem is, we don’t have enough residents who work at the nukes, or the other industries to pay the salaries. The taxes are generated by many, many much lower paid workers. Something like 75 percent of this community does not work in industry (if not more), and their salaries are approximately $35,000 for a family of four. And yes, they want what they see on t.v., but alas, homes are not as luxurious as they are on the shows.

    For those of us who are retiring, our salaries are going to be even less. And it is not a joke that we may not have heat/water/sewer/and quality food. Oswego should be ashamed of putting stress on young families working minimum wage jobs, and seniors trying to live on substantially reduced incomes after the Wall Street fiasco!

    What will happen? Some will abandon their homes. Yes, that will happen. Not a joke. They will go and live elsewhere, and just let their properties go. More will sell for substantially less than they are worth, JUST TO GET OUT! Yes, that happens, too.

    But many more will struggle here. In their home community. The food pantries are funded by middle-class people. They won’t get the support. Social Services will have greater difficulty as more will need assistance themselves.

    I’d like to hear what happens if Oswego goes bankrupt, except the embarrassment of all of us? What happens? No police? No fire department? No DPW? What happens?

    Finally, industry has worked with their unions to negotiate a way to provide jobs AND retirements. How come we can’t do this, at the very least for new employees coming in???

  6. Thankfully I left CNY 20+ years ago ahead of the implosion and ever increasing level of incompetence at the City Halls. Oswego County as a whole is heading the way of Detroit (industry has left, housing is falling into disrepair and ruin, taxing and fees keep increasing, pension plans are draining the budget, and the fools at the helm are “happy” to steer the ship on the rocks).

    It’s a shame the area continues down the drain. Pretty soon all you will see are folks flashing their food stamp cards at checkout, collecting unemployment, and crime rising.

    Easy suggestion: freeze pay raises for all city workers for 2 years, cut city staff by 15%, raise the hotel occupancy tax 1%, start razing dilapidated properties and foreclosing on properties more than 1 year past due on due taxes.

  7. Well stated Debbie and Erik!!! I remember the city 20+ years ago was a place to be but as was said the City Hall let that go!!! It’s just terrible and sad.

  8. Check and see where Kaplewicz lives on 3rd street. It’s a shack and he probably pays $50 a year for city taxes. Not a big deal for him, but for people that have real jobs, and live in a nice house becuase they earned it will have a drastic effect. People will be moving away from this pitiful city as if one of the nuke plants had a meltdown. Problem is, nobody will be able to sell them for what thay are worth becuase of the increase. Get a clue politicians (even hate to say that word – should be polidiots) and make some changes to to the overspending!

  9. My husband and I just moved into the city over this past summer but, I grew up here from 1960 when my Dad moved back to his hometown. We are both retired and make less than $2700.00 a month with a tax hike like that where would that leave us? Not pay taxes and let the house go back to the city, what problem would that solve.

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