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.”